Breaking Ranks

Union leaders endorsed Willie Brown, but the rank and file has other ideas

Leaders of three other unions at UCSF, all of whom support Ammiano, echoed those concerns. Most asked not to be named for fear of retaliation for ignoring the Labor Council's endorsement.

"You did see more health care workers than I would have thought [working for Ammiano]," observes another union leader. "It's totally rank and file. That's the pizazz of S.F. politics."

Mary Higgins, a local leader of the Coalition of University Employees, which represents about 2,400 clerical workers in San Francisco -- and is not a member of the Labor Council -- also supports Ammiano.

"Certainly I think that Ammiano was there for us with Mount Zion, when Willie turned his back on us," Higgins says. "Ammiano has not only helped us, he's taught us. He kicked our butts for whining and then led the way about what we should be doing to get organized."

Giuliana Milanese, who took a leave of absence from her job as an organizer for the California Nurses' Association to work on Ammiano's campaign, says that there's an upsurge of rank-and-file labor activists on the campaign. "I see a lot of people taking off their union jackets and saying, 'Oh God please don't tell anyone I'm here,'" Milanese says. "Two weeks ago, a labor leader yelled at me, 'This is dividing the movement.' I didn't know the mayor's race was a movement."

Meanwhile, UESF, the city's teachers union, has its own unique set of complications with the race. UESF formally endorsed Brown in mid-October. But Tom Ammiano is one of their own. The supervisor is not only a former teacher, but a former board member in the San Francisco Unified School District, which likely has swayed many UESF members away from Brown.

"Teachers' support of the mayor doesn't seem to be significantly different than the average citizen," says UESF President Kent Mitchell. "Tom Ammiano is a former teacher and has friends in the school district. Many of the teachers would find this two goods rather than a bad choice."

Indeed, the murky lines of labor support appear no different than any other San Francisco subcategory that now finds itself facing a difficult choice between Ammiano and Brown.

"Labor has always done a really good job of keeping its people behind its endorsements," observes pollster Binder. "The last several years, we've actually seen a closing of ranks because of attacks on labor." But, he adds, this election may be a bit different in San Francisco.

"Labor is a diverse group. There's a lot of conservatives and liberals, just like any other group. People have a tendency to imply that a group is monolithic, when there are a whole set of subcategories. There are people who follow their heart."

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