More than a quarter century ago, Amy Dean took the helm of the South Bay Labor Council and ushered in a new generation of leadership for the local labor movement, an event that has shaped the region’s political culture ever since.
The upstarts, as inevitably happens, turned into an old guard, however.
Since the downfall of Mayor Ron Gonzales and Chavez’s defeat by Chuck Reed in the 2006 race to succeed him, labor has been the minority party at City Hall.
The police union suffered a debacle during Reed’s administration, and Liccardo’s administration has only been a bit friendlier to unions, out of pragmatism and a better economy during his first term.
The campaign to shift the power equation through a ballot measure blew up last month.
SBLC exec Ben Field cut a deal with City Hall to switch dates and in doing so, managed to simultaneously infuriate both factions of a divided labor machine: the five-member council faction that opposes the fair elections-strong mayor compromise and the law enforcement and trade unions that support it.
On Monday, Field went before his executive board and pulled the grenade pin, as one insider put it, ending with a bang and a surprise end to his decade-long reign as a union executive. On Tuesday, the Labor Council executive board met again.
SBLC will no longer get behind the electoral reform package that Field and Chavez championed, but individual unions will be free to support it.
The SBLC reportedly also passed the torch, at least on an interim basis, to Jean Cohen, its first vice president. Cohen is also vice chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and the political and communications director of UA Local Union 393, which represents plumbers, steamfitters and HVAC technicians.
The self-described party activist and organizer is born and bred in San Jose and better aligned with the restless council minority and the new social change forces unleashed by the recent protest movements.
Her mother is a retired 35-year school teacher. Her father was a newspaper columnist, drummer and union representative who co-founded the San Jose Jazz Festival. Her grandfather was an activist and gadfly who’d been involved in Chicago ward politics before moving to Santa Clara Valley.
“I have the values and experience to help build power to advance a progressive, impactful, and inclusive agenda. My goals include activating our platform and members to win pro-worker, pro-immigrant, pro-women, pro-environment policies through organizing, electoral politics and coalition building,” Cohen wrote in her ballot statement for state party delegate. Later in the same statement, she added: “my career has encompassed local government, the labor movement, and the non-profit sector to fight poverty, empower marginalized communities and build social and economic justice through public policy and organizing.”
Cohen and SBLC officials were unavailable to confirm the appointment, so this is an unfolding story that will be updated as new information becomes available.