Major Sacramento labor leader Bill Camp fired over Kevin Johnson's strong mayor initiative

by Cosmo Garvin

Bill Camp, the outspoken executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, has been fired, apparently because of an internal dispute over Kevin Johnson’s strong mayor initiative.

Camp, who has held the job for the last 15 years, and who has become the face of the local labor movement, is still fighting to keep his job.  He says the labor council’s board violated its own rules on terminating staff. “Some people say I am fired. Others disagree.”

And the national AFL-CIO is conducting its own investigation of what some are describing as a “coup” in the local labor council.

The Sacramento Central Labor Council is made up of dozens of local labor unions. The people who fired Camp were labor council board president Lino Pedres, with the SEIU Service Workers West Union, and Margarita Maldonado, the labor council board’s recording secretary, who represents SEIU Local 1000.

Camp said he was not told why he was fired. “They just told me ‘you’re fired, clean out your stuff.’” 

But events leading up to Camp’s dismissal suggest a power struggle in the local labor movement over the divisive strong mayor proposal Measure L, which will appear on the ballot this fall.

The Sacramento Central Labor Council has historically taken a position against strong mayor. And as executive secretary Bill Camp successfully sued to get strong mayor kicked off the ballot in 2010.

But last week, Mayor Kevin Johnson convinced enough members of the central labor council’s executive board–Camp’s bosses–to recommend that the larger labor council membership vote to endorse Measure L.

But at a subsequent meeting of the larger body of labor council delegates–from more than two dozen local unions–Measure L failed to get enough votes for an endorsement.  

Then unions supporting strong mayor included SEIU 1000 (state workers), the fire fighters, sheet metal workers and grocery workers, among others. Opposed were stationary engineers (city workers), teachers, and electrical workers, among others.

The votes were weighted according to the number of members in union, but even with the advantage of SEIU’s 24,000 members–the largest bloc in the labor council–the pro-side came up short. (It is not clear if the SEIU’s 24,000 members living in the city really do support strong mayor, by and large, or if that’s just what the leadership wants. Same could be said of the other unions.)

The results were contested, and Camp and strong mayor proponents disagreed about whether Measure L needed two-thirds support to win endorsement. Camp says that’s the rule, straight from the AFL-CIO, and later confirmed by the labor council’s lawyer.

On the same day as the Measure L vote, Grantland Johnson, progressive hero and also a former labor council employee, died. Camp was one of the people to deliver a eulogy at Johnson’s memorial service on Sunday, attended by many political figures, including former Mayor Heather Fargo and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg

During his comments, Camp mentioned that one of Grantland Johnson’s last political acts was to sign his name to the ballot argument against Measure L. This caused a stir among the supporters of Measure L, present who complained Camp’s remarks were inappropriate. Others dismissed Camp’s comments as no big deal.  “When is Bill appropriate, really? That’s why people ask him to talk at things,” said one attendee.

According to Camp, Lino Pedres came to Camp’s home on Monday night, and attempted to deliver a letter telling Camp he was fired. Camp refused the letter and said he had a right to have representation. Another letter of termination was affixed to Camp’s office door Tuesday morning.

It’s not clear if the executive board held any sort of meeting or vote to fire Camp. Sources say that labor council vice president Dean Murakami, who represents the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, has since resigned in protest.  Camp also says he has a letter from Grantland Johnson’s widow, in support of him and the comments he made at Johnson’s memorial.

Lino Pedres did not respond to an interview request, other than to say, “The Sacramento Central Labor Council AFL-CIO will not comment on personnel matters.”  Margarita Maldonado did not reply either, but sources says she has sent text messages warning executive board members not to talk to the media.  Anyone who follows strong mayor shenanigans may recall that SEIU held a public strong mayor debate earlier this year, but refused to let members of the media attend.

Camp said he was given no reason for the firing, but said he believes its related to strong mayor. “These people are not standing with working families. And they are determined to roll over the delegates who stand with the community.” 

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