Members of SBCTC Affiliates Demand Fair Elections

January 2012 - Courageous Building Trades workers in the City of Escondido have had enough of a city government that ignores workers’ needs, treats them scornfully because they are Latino, and operates within a system that they are powerless to change.

That’s why the Building Trades and our Latino workers in Escondido have filed suit to force the city to change the way it elects its city council members.  The current discriminatory at-large system, in which every councilmember is elected by the entire city, effectively disenfranchises the minority Latino population. 

Instead, we are demanding they switch to a district-based system that would allow residents of predominantly Latino neighborhoods to compete to represent their areas on the council, and cast meaningful votes for candidates more concerned about issues important to their community.

But Mayor Sam Abed said he is willing to spend three to five million dollars of taxpayer money to fight the suit and keep Latinos from having a fair voice.  It’s no surprise that he wants to spend taxpayer dollars to preserve his own power base, since the current system allowed him to be elected with only 38 percent of the vote.

In Escondido’s 123-year history, it has elected only one openly Latino City Council member, even though its population is 49 percent Latino.  It currently has no representative from the city’s central, largely Latino core area.

“I have lived, worked, and raised my family in this city,” said union construction laborer Demetrio Gomez, a construction trades worker and a 40-year resident and voter of Escondido, addressing the council in December.  “There are no representatives from our large Latino neighborhoods, and this council is elected by – and caters to – wealthier non-Latinos.”

The demand he and other Latino workers submitted states that the current system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibit the use of at-large methods of election that result in the denial or abridgement of a protected class’s right to vote.   The letter said the City Council’s failure to voluntarily change its discriminatory process would result in legal action to force the change to a district-based system.

The meeting was attended by 45 members of Construction Laborers Local 89, including Business Manager Val Macedo, along with Cement Masons and Steamfitters, who applauded as the demand was issued.  The mayor reacted by suspending the meeting for five minutes, and when he returned, admonishing spectators not to clap or cheer, saying the council meeting was not a party or a football game.  The mayor obviously didn’t want anyone to express support for this change to give the people a real voice against his good-old-boy network.

Escondido’s two school districts have recognized the injustice, and made the switch to district elections.  But when the council failed to act to change its elections system at its next meeting, we filed suit.  “Rather than addressing the problems facing Escondido’s Latino residents, including high rates of poverty and low levels of educational attainment, the City Council has aggressively pursued anti-Latino policies that have divided the city along racial lines,” attorney James Finberg said at a press conference announcing the suit.

It’s not surprising that a city council that treats its Latino citizens disdainfully also has plans to worsen the quality of life for all construction workers.  As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in its coverage of the lawsuit, the current council will try to convince voters to make Escondido a charter city, in hopes of lowering construction wages on public works projects –for all workers, Latino and non-Latino alike.

“They want to take away the prevailing wage,” Demetrio Gomez, the lead plaintiff, told the paper.  “They want to take away the things that make the average worker’s life worthwhile.  We believe that’s wrong.  And we believe if we had the ability to elect Latinos we would have better representation.”

Throughout its long history, the Building Trades has worked to change government to better serve the needs of its workers around the state.  That’s what we are doing in Escondido now.

“The Building Trades fights for the rights of workers,” our Legislative Director, Cesar Diaz, told the local press.  “Latino Building Trades workers in Escondido are suffering because they are not represented.  We are honored to help change that.”

Print this Page