Opinion: South Bay Labor Council seeking greater collaboration


Political observers often preach the gospel of bipartisan collaboration — the need for politicians to reach across proverbial aisles to find and unify around common solutions to the most pressing issues facing the communities they represent. Frankly, voters expect and, moreover, deserve nothing less from their elected representatives.

The South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and its many affiliates believe in the power of collaboration and have a lengthy track record of crossing traditional political divides for the betterment of the city of San Jose and the greater good of its residents — supporting district elections, establishing the Children’s Health Initiative and Living Wage policy, and, most recently, delivering expansive economic benefits to accompany the downtown Google development.

In its Jan.12 editorial, The Mercury News Editorial Board rightfully credits San Jose’s new mayor, Matt Mahan, for reaching out to and seeking to collaborate with members of the San Jose City Council, none of whom supported him in his campaign for mayor. We have observed the efforts that Mahan has sought to take thus far and are optimistic about the outcomes such an approach can achieve.

Yet we are surprised the Editorial Board is preaching the necessity for collaboration, as it has repeatedly sewn discourse and divisiveness, time and time again cynically defining our local politics as a zero-sum game. Look no further than the long list of local candidates for public office that the Editorial Board has, for decades now, written off merely because they have earned the endorsement of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and the 100,000 union members we represent.

We do not share the Board’s penchant for political conflict. We feel strongly that the ideals uniting us far exceed those dividing us, and we will work closely with Mayor Mahan and all members of the City Council, whether we happened to endorse them or not.

By doing so, we seek to create a set of public policy objectives that will deliver measurable progress on the major issues facing San Jose:

• Building our economy with broad community benefits and good, high-paying jobs.

• Effectively serving San Jose residents by filling over 700 vacancies at City Hall.

• Finding safe, sustainable ways to house the homeless.

• Developing affordable housing.

• Investing in neighborhood infrastructure and services such as libraries and parks.

The first big opportunity to collaboratively move this agenda forward comes this week when the mayor and City Council will make appointments to the council seats representing Districts 8 and 10. Though an imperfect solution, the appointments will forego costly special elections that will likely leave 200,000 residents, one-fifth of the city, unrepresented for the better part of the year.

Thanks to the prudence of the outgoing City Council in opting to forego special elections at a cost of as much as $11 million, the new mayor and council can immediately focus attention on the fiscal priorities upon which they collectively agree. As Mahan prepares to present his first budget this March, those funds may also prove instrumental in his efforts to collaborate effectively with his colleagues and earn a broad base of support for his initiatives.

The South Bay Labor Council and its affiliates will continue to seek collaboration and partnership across the political spectrum to advance its goals and move our region forward.

Jean Cohen is the executive officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council.

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