[ Jovanka Beckles, a two-term city councilor, county worker, and
past Labor Notes Troublemakers School speaker, now advances to the
November run-off for Assembly District 15, which includes Richmond,
Berkeley, and part of Oakland.] [https://portside.org/] 



 Steve Early 
 August 31, 2018
Labor Notes

	* [https://portside.org/node/18052/printable/print]

 _ Jovanka Beckles, a two-term city councilor, county worker, and past
Labor Notes Troublemakers School speaker, now advances to the November
run-off for Assembly District 15, which includes Richmond, Berkeley,
and part of Oakland. _ 

 Jovanka Beckles rallies with campus workers. The odds are stacked
against rank-and-file union members who run for office... but this
Teamster, county worker, and community activist has made it into the
general election for a California Assembly seat., Jovanka Beckles for
District 15 


It has become a movement mantra, as labor suffers betrayal after
betrayal by Democrats and Republicans alike: _union members should run
for office themselves_.

Rhetoric on this subject is cheap and easy. But running successful
candidates is not. Even labor activists with considerable skill and
experience have found it difficult to win public office.

Yet in California’s “jungle primary” in June, a Teamster from
Richmond astounded many observers by placing second in her state
legislative race.

Jovanka Beckles, a two-term city councilor, county worker, and past
Labor Notes Troublemakers School speaker, now advances to the November
run-off for Assembly District 15, which includes Richmond, Berkeley,
and part of Oakland.

She’s up against Buffy Wicks, a well-connected former White House
official who recently relocated to the East Bay. Wicks has been
personally endorsed by former President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator
Kamala Harris, and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who is likely to
become California’s next governor.

The November showdown between Beckles, a strong Bernie Sanders
supporter, and Wicks, who managed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 California
primary campaign, gives some unions a chance to do penance for their
short-sighted embrace of Clinton two years ago.

It’s also an important test of whether East Bay labor’s
post-primary backing for one of its own will translate into the kind
of union member mobilization necessary to overcome the paid media
blitz already underway on Wicks’ behalf.

“We don’t have a million dollars to send out a bunch of
mailers,” Beckles said, in a recent appeal for more volunteers.
“We’re not trying to elect another status-quo Democrat.”


Why don’t union candidates win more often? One disadvantage,
resumé-wise, is that the demands of local union leadership or
activism can leave little time for personal involvement in community
affairs or service on local boards and commissions. Working-class
candidates may be well known in union circles but less familiar to the
larger electorate. Their opponents are often well-funded and
better-networked professionals, businesspeople, and “civic
leaders” long identified, for better or worse, with local public

Beckles wasn’t a lone individual candidate when she broke into
electoral politics in Richmond. She won a council seat in 2010, after
an earlier defeat, because she had become a neighborhood council
activist and then a citywide leader of the Richmond Progressive

The RPA is a 14-year old local political group that has dues-paying
members and a year-round program of organizing around labor and
community issues. All of its candidates for city council or mayor run
on a common slate and must refuse all business donations.

The RPA now boasts a super-majority of five out of seven members on
the part-time Richmond city council. During her tenure, Beckles and
her council allies developed a track record of impressive local
achievements that now lends credibility and substance to her current
RPA-backed bid for an open assembly seat. (For details, see here

Still, for more than a year Beckles has had to juggle her continuing
council duties, four 10-hour shifts a week as a child protection
worker for Contra Costa County with in Richmond, _plus_ conducting her
campaign for Assembly on weekends, free evenings, vacation days, and

Only in the homestretch of her general election campaign has she been
able to take a leave from her demanding day job to campaign more


If the RPA was the original force propelling Beckles’ candidacy, she
now has supporters of all kinds—knocking on doors, making phone
calls, hosting house-parties, displaying yard signs, and handing out
flyers throughout the East Bay.

RPA volunteers have been joined by Oakland and Berkeley members of one
of the country’s fastest-growing chapters of the Democratic
Socialist of America, which includes many young labor activists. Since
last year, Beckles has also gotten key help from the national Our
Revolution, the Sanders campaign spinoff based in Washington, D.C.,
and local political groups like the Wellstone Democrats and Berkeley
Progressive Alliance.

Wicks—thanks to her past role as a Clinton Super PAC director and
her continuing ties to national Democratic Party donor networks—was
the beneficiary of $1.2 million in primary spending ($240,000 of which
paid for the services of the same San Francisco consulting firm used
by that city’s Chamber of Commerce.)

Wicks’ funders include wealthy donors tied to Lyft, Uber, and Bay
Area tech firms, charter school interests, major landlords, a health
care industry PAC, and Govern for California, a business-oriented
Super PAC created by the board chair of Walmart and a former top
advisor to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In contrast, Beckles raised and spent only about $160,000, mostly in
smaller, in-state donations. She ran as a “people-powered”
candidate, free of corporate money and relied on few paid staffers or
outside consultants.


In the primary, some California unions associated with Labor for
Bernie (and long supportive of Labor Notes) backed Beckles because of
her support for workers’ and tenants’ rights, single payer health
care, and getting big money out of politics. These included the
National Union of Healthcare Workers, Transit (ATU) Local 192, and
University Professional and Technical Employees (CWA).

But they were joined by the Bay Area affiliates of several national
unions that were missing from the Sanders camp two years
ago—including Beckles’ own Teamsters Joint Council 7 and SEIU
Local 1021, which represents Richmond city workers and nearly 50,000
other public employees in northern California.

“How often do we get a chance to elect one of our own?” asks Local
1021 political organizer Gabriel Haaland, who has spent the last year
helping Beckles defy Democratic Party insider predictions that her bid
for higher office was hopeless.

Since June, Beckles backers like Haaland have succeeded in broadening
the labor base for her campaign. It now includes the Alameda and
Contra Costa County Labor Councils, the California Labor Federation,
both statewide teachers’ unions, AFSCME, and the California Nurses

Kathryn Lybarger, who serves as president of the state AFL-CIO and
AFSCME Local 3299 at the University of California, has hailed Beckles,
an immigrant from Panama, as “a candidate strongly aligned with our
values and so representative of our members.

“We are utterly confident that she will continue to fight for us
when she gets to Sacramento,” Lybarger said.


Not everyone is on board. The Alameda County Building Trades Council
backs Wicks over Beckles—despite the latter’s past advocacy of
project labor agreements, the usual litmus test for endorsement by the

The building trades council in neighboring Contra Costa County has
been a reliable political ally of Chevron, Richmond’s largest
employer. Four years ago, its member unions even joined the
Chevron-backed “independent expenditure” committee that spent $3
million trying unsuccessfully to defeat Beckles and other pro-labor
running for city council.

Ex-SEIU President Andy Stern is an individual endorser of
Wicks—despite the fact that two major SEIU locals and their state
council favor Beckles. Since leaving the union, Stern has become a
corporate board member and gig economy consultant. He worked closely
with Wicks and other Obama Administration staffers when they were
lining up union support for the Affordable Care Act eight years ago
and sidelining labor proponents of Medicare for All. In the Assembly
District 15 race today, California single-payer advocates favor
Beckles over Wicks, whose position on health care reform is much

Over Labor Day weekend, Beckles is scheduled to appear at a
teachers’ union picnic and a rally with SEIU members protesting
out-sourcing by Kaiser Permanente. If Beckles’ consistent solidarity
with local labor causes is reciprocated through sufficient union voter
turnout and spending on her behalf, she may indeed be joining the
Assembly in January.

And there, she will be a rare “corporate-free” voice for many
other working class and poor Californians whose interests tend to be
overlooked by state legislators who do take money from business PACs
and industry associations.

_Steve Early is a Labor Notes policy committee member, a Jovanka
Beckles supporter, and fellow member of the Richmond Progressive
Alliance. He is the author, most recently, of _Refinery Town: Big Oil,
Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City
a book about local political organizing in Richmond, CA. To find out
more about Beckles’ campaign, see here [http://www.jovanka.org]._

_CORRECTION: It's the Alameda County Building Trades Council that's
backing Wicks, not the Contra Costa County Building Trades Council as
we at first reported. We have also clarified the following paragraph
to reflect that member unions of the Contra Costa County Building
Trades Council were the ones who backed Chevron's committee four years

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