Longtime Sacramento labor chief Bill Camp fired amid internal strife

Amid a roiling dispute among labor groups over Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor ballot proposal, Bill Camp, the longtime executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, was abruptly fired this week.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Camp, who opposes the mayor’s measure, said he learned he had been fired when he showed up for work at his office earlier this week and found a letter of termination – signed by two officers of the labor council – taped to his door.

The letter did not explain the reason for his termination, Camp said. Labor council President Lino Pedres said the firing was unrelated to the debate over the strong-mayor measure, which will appear on the ballot in November.

But the move comes as proponents and opponents of the issue are jockeying for support from area labor leaders.

“There was an illegal ambush,” Camp said, adding that he plans to fight his dismissal and that he does not believe it is supported by council delegates who heard from Johnson last week in a pitch he made seeking support of Measure L.

“They think by getting rid of me the mayor’s allies can roll over the delegates,” Camp said. “They taped the letter on the door of my office and said, ‘You’re terminated as of yesterday.’ ”

Camp said the letter was signed by Pedres and Central Labor Council recording secretary Margarita Maldonado, both officials with the powerful Service Employees International Union.

Pedres said the executive committee of the council, an AFL-CIO affiliate with 104,000 dues-paying members in the region, voted unanimously to terminate Camp and that it stemmed from “several issues related to his work.”

“It’s not about Measure L,” Pedres said.

The mayor’s office declined to comment.

Measure L would vastly increase the authority of the mayor’s office. If it is approved, the mayor would obtain the power to appoint and remove the city manager, who in turn would oversee the hiring and firing of key city officials. The mayor’s choice of a city manager would require City Council approval, though the mayor could unilaterally remove the city manager.

The mayor also would have the ability to propose the city budget, a power currently held by the city manager. Some limited City Council actions would be susceptible to mayoral vetoes under the plan, including budget decisions, but the City Council could override those vetoes.

As a labor leader, the demonstrative and often folksy Camp played a key role in numerous local issues, often championing low-wage families and pushing to elect labor-friendly candidates for local boards.

The former city school board member argued passionately against a city ordinance that makes it easier for nonunion big-box stores to locate in Sacramento. He was arrested last year in Roseville during a protest against Wal-Mart, a company he referred to as “an economic terrorist.” Camp more recently has led a push to get the city and developers to agree to hire union workers in planned downtown hotels.

Camp, who has been at the Central Labor Council since 1999, said he was planning to clean out his office Wednesday, though he is fighting his dismissal “every single step of the way.”

Camp said he believes matters came to a head last week when Johnson showed up at a council delegates meeting and spent 90 minutes pitching his strong-mayor proposal.

“They ran through the recommendation to endorse it, and it went to the floor and the majority of the delegates voted no,” Camp said. “If the unions want to support it, we don’t care, the thing’s going down. The public doesn’t support it.

“I like the mayor, but this is not good policy. It’s a huge mistake when you look at the kind of the power it gives the mayor.”

City Councilman Steve Hansen, who is leading the fight against Measure L, said he made his pitch to the delegates last Tuesday before the mayor showed up.

“It is interesting that World War III is erupting at the Central Labor Council on an issue that seems clear cut,” he said. “They have been opposed to it before, for largely the right reason. It is not clear what is going on there.”

Eric Sunderland, a delegate to the Central Labor Council and a Camp supporter, said he is among a group that will make a statement of some sort – possibly a picket – at the labor council’s annual Labor Day picnic Monday in Land Park.

“We are absolutely trying to keep Bill Camp in place,” he said. “We do not support what we believe is an illegal firing.”

City Councilman Jay Schenirer said he is not privy to what went into the firing, but added that he hopes a leadership change at the council signals an era of better cooperation with the city. Camp campaigned against Schenirer during council elections this year, and the two were on opposite sides of the dispute over easing restrictions on big-box stores.

“I don’t think (Camp’s leadership style) was effective in today’s environment,” Schenirer said. “We need a relationship where we are partnering with labor, rather than fighting with labor. That wasn’t really happening. I am personally excited about creating a win-win relationship.”

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