Janitor’s union: Campaign for D11 candidate Ahsha Safai or pay $150


If you’re a San Francisco janitor in SEIU Local 87, you may soon face a choice: Pay the union $150, or campaign for Ahsha Safai, candidate for District 11 supervisor.

Whether you consider that to be extortion of already overburdened workers, or a fair way of ensuring union participation, depends on who you are.

On Guard obtained the Aug. 18 meeting minutes of Local 87, which represents more than 4,000 private sector custodial workers. Its president, Olga Miranda, has also stumped heavily for Safai.

His candidacy comes at a crucial time, when five seats on the Board of Supervisors are up for grabs. Any two of them going to the moderates could tip the balance of power on the board back toward Mayor Ed Lee’s allies.

Safai’s and opponent Kimberly Alvarenga’s campaigns have split unions in this town on either side, seen by the Labor Council’s “no endorsement” in District 11 — a clear peacekeeping move.

Safai earned $9,000 or $19,000 (depending on the year) for his work as a political consultant at Local 87 until 2012. He then began to independently consult for the union as a contractor (for about the same range of cost) and billed it through his consultancy company, Kitchen Cabinet Public Affairs.

Is this pay-to-play? Some Local 87 members sure do think so.

Local 87’s minutes describe members in the meeting proposing “Measures for members that did not show up to picket lines … motion to penalize members who did not show up @ [sic] Rallies during contract time will be fined $150/day or doing campaign activity for candidates endorsed by Local union.”

I can see a future with Supervisor Safai right now: “Comment at the Board of Supervisors, or you owe me $150.” “Curb your wheels, or you owe me $150!”

Essentially, if you’re not out on the picket line, you’ve got to help Safai campaign against Alvarenga — or pay up.

“I’ve worked as a political coordinator for SEIU for 14 years and I haven’t heard of such a thing,” Gabriel Haaland of rival union SEIU 1021 told me.

Now, granted, Haaland supports Alvarenga, but he was still adamant.

“It’s the most odd thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said.

That choice rankled longtime Local 87 members Elsa Almanza and Juan Avila, who I spoke to during the San Francisco Democratic Party board’s meeting last Wednesday.

“He’s not a trustworthy person,” Avila said of Safai. Almanza added, “He doesn’t do anything related to organizing the members.”

As you can imagine, Safai and Miranda, the union’s head, rebuffed the idea there was anything untoward about offering this odd choice.

Safai said the idea that people had to campaign for him or pay money was “a distortion of the truth” because members were given “options” and that “this is not something unique to my campaign. The union has done this in multiple situations in the past.”

Miranda said their union is very small, so it needs mechanisms to make members “accountable.”

She brought up a fair point: Her union only racked wins against tech companies like Airbnb, Uber and Square for better treatment for custodial workers because they picketed.

Miranda said if her members had a problem with stumping for Ahsha, “I would not have been re-elected.” She touted her win for Local 87’s presidency last week as proof that “our members trust us.”

SEIU Local 87 would benefit from a candidate who has its issues at heart on the Board of Supervisors, she said. For instance, a past proposal to extend hours on parking meters in the Financial District was harmful to janitors, she said.

“It benefits us to be involved politically,” Miranda said.

Seeing how hard they’ve stumped for Safai, you’d better believe it will.

* * *

Cue the tiniest of violins for politicians looking to circumvent campaign finance laws, as the Democratic County Central Committee voted last Wednesday to advocate for California lawmakers to restrict the DCCC’s campaign contributions to $500 and to add that limit to its bylaws. Previously, contributions were unlimited.

The resolution was authored by Petra DeJesus — hat’s off to her.

During last June’s election, DCCC candidates racked up more than $2.3 million in donations because of a fundraising loophole: If you’re running for supervisor, you’re beholden to a $500 contribution limit. But if you also run for DCCC at the same time, you can easily pocket $10,000 or more from a contributor.

Judson True, an aide to Assemblymember and incumbent candidate David Chiu, said Chiu supports the DCCC resolution and is “exploring a bill for next year,” but much work is still to be done.

It’s a start.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter.

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