In an abrupt about-face, shipyard union workers have joined environmental groups in supporting the contested Barrio Logan Community Plan update.
"The map the City Council is proposing allows a buffer zone that’s good for jobs and good for the community,” said Robert Godinez, president of the local union chapter for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. “It’s not going to hurt the shipyard or the employment in any way."
In the run-up to the council’s approval in September of the community-plan update, union workers aligned themselves with the shipping industry. Workers attended public meetings and vociferously opposed the proposed zoning plan, which was negotiated over five years.
Shipping-company officials misled the unions, Godinez said. “About three months ago, I was called into the [National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, NASSCO] main office, and I was told the new plan would be bad on jobs,” he said. "Since then, I’ve taken a look at the map, and that’s not true.”
However, Virginia Cobb, long-time union leader with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents shipyard workers, said labor's sudden change of heart had more to do with recent labor negotiations.
Industry bosses "were promising them a good labor agreement, better pay," she said. "I asked them, ‘Do you have anything in writing?’”
When labor deals were finalized in late September, workers felt misled, Cobb said, adding that she opposed from the beginning any deal with the employers that included workers' opposition to the plan update.
The negotiations played no part in the union's position on the community-plan update, Godinez countered. "Absolutely not. It had nothing to do with it. Our negotiations are completely separate. That issue never came up."
Over recent months, the unions and their workers silently watched as the industry launched a hardball referendum campaign to overturn the plan. To get signatures, industry representatives and conservative politicians, such as mayoral candidate and City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, claimed the plan threatened up to 46,000 jobs, would lead to the dismantling of the entire shipyard and would eventually force the Navy to leave San Diego.
In contrast to industry claims, a city report found that the community plan update would lead to the creation of a few thousand jobs. The Navy publicly stated it had no opinion on the issue.
Forced by the successful signature drive, the City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to overturn the plan or send it to the voters in a special election next year.
The referendum campaign was “incredibly misleading,” but there’s nothing the unions could do about it, said Richard Barrera, CEO and secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, which recently announced its support for the plan. “There’s nothing that our position would have done to influence the petition gathering.”
The Environmental Health Coalition, which has represented community members in negotiations over the plan, also blamed the industry for tricking the union workers.
“Now they see the information that they were given was misguided, and they were misinformed," said Georgette Gomez, spokesperson and organizer with Environmental Health Coalition. "They see it’s not going to impact the shipyards like they were told.”
When asked about the timing of the union’s support, Gomez blamed herself for not reaching out to the workers more effectively. “It was my job to incorporate them. I lost track of that. Now they see what the plan does and doesn’t do.”
At the same time, the issue of the community plan has become something of a political football. City Councilmember David Alvarez, who's also running for mayor, helped broker the plan, which many see as a compromise between industry and a community suffering from high levels of pollution.
The Labor Council backed Alvarez for mayor, and its sudden support of the community-plan update signals the political importance of the issue.