There were pans of barbecue, live music and union-friendly politicians making the rounds Monday at the Sacramento Central Labor Council’s annual Labor Day picnic, with hundreds of union members and their families showing up with lawn chairs and umbrellas.
But notably absent from the festivities on a steamy afternoon was longtime local labor leader Bill Camp, the council’s executive secretary who was fired last week, had his termination rescinded and is now on paid administrative leave. Camp’s union has filed a grievance, accusing council members of conducting a “witch hunt” against Camp.
The dispute over Camp’s status loomed large at Monday’s picnic, suggesting internal divisions in the region’s house of labor at the traditional start of the fall campaign season. Local union members are expected to have major roles in contests on November’s ballot, such as Sacramento’s strong-mayor ballot measure and Democrats’ attempts to hold Rep. Ami Bera’s 7th Congressional District in the county’s eastern half, one of the top House battlegrounds in the country.
“This disruption during campaign season is not ideal,” said Eric Sunderland, a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245. He handed out bright yellow fliers to picnicgoers alleging “egregious actions and conspiracy” by the labor council’s executive board members trying “to get rid of” Camp.
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Lino Pedres, president of the 104,000-member labor council, held the executive board vote that led to Camp’s ouster. On Monday, Pedres criticized Camp supporters’ fliers yet downplayed controversy on a day he said should highlight unions’ accomplishments.
“This is about more than brother Camp,” said Pedres, who is vice president of Service Employees International Union’s United Services Workers West. “Our parents and grandparents fought for this day, and we see more service workers joining unions because they want to be a part of this economy.”
Of the dispute over Camp’s status, Pedres said, “We will protect brother Camp’s rights as well as everyone else’s. We are still united.”
The reasons for the attempted ouster of Camp remain unclear. He told The Bee last week that it was because of his opposition to Measure L, the strong-mayor ballot measure championed by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson that would significantly increase the powers of the mayor’s office. But Pedres has said Camp’s dismissal resulted from “several issues related to his work. It’s not about Measure L.”
Camp had attended every Labor Day picnic for at least the past 15 years, Sunderland said. Tamara Rubyn, president and business manager of Oakland-based Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29, which represents Camp, attended Monday’s picnic. Rubyn said Camp was out of the country on a long-scheduled trip.
Camp’s status, though, got plenty of attention at Monday’s gathering. Many picnicgoers Monday wore “No!” stickers, opposing Measure L, and some had buttons featuring Camp’s picture. An “I Miss Bill” T-shirt hung from the booth of the Sacramento City Teachers Association.
State worker Richard Wake, who also distributed pro-Camp fliers, said he once lived next door to Camp and that he has done a lot for local workers. With campaign season underway, “I don’t think it’s helpful to have this divisiveness at this time,” he said.
Besides political donations, unions are a valuable source of get-out-the-vote precinct walkers and phone bankers for issues and candidates they support. Their role could be even more crucial this fall, with union-allied Democrats facing the prospect of low turnout.
In the 2012 election, labor support helped carry then-Rancho Cordova Mayor Ken Cooley to a nearly 15,000-vote victory in the 8th Assembly District after one of the most expensive legislative campaigns in the state. Cooley, who attended Monday’s picnic, said he does not think labor council infighting will hamper his re-election campaign.
Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, also came to Monday’s picnic and spent several minutes talking to Pedres. Pulaski acknowledged the hard feelings over Camp’s firing, noting, “Democracy is a challenge at times.”
But Pulaski dismissed any effect on fall campaign efforts. “Everyone will work together for the big picture,” he said. “It will all be good.”