Let me set the record straight. The opposition is attempting to undermine my long public career as a voice for labor. In summary, yes, I did cross a picket line to speak at a graduation at UC Riverside when I was a private citizen. I apologize to the AFSCME and union member delegates who feel betrayed by the mistake. After speaking with many allies within Labor and looking inward at the reasons I gave for crossing the picket line I wish I would have spoken on the picket line. I did not mean to give the speech at the expense of the workers but as an encouragement to the students. I understand and regret that it came across as disrespectful of labor.
As an elected official, I have always stood with organized labor. When I was the Superintendent of Public Instruction I lifted the morale of the California Department of Education (CDE) by meeting with our staff and listening to their advice, taking their recommendations for improving our work environment and streamlining our bureaucracy. I worked with our state employee union representatives to maintain high morale in the CDE. Our building was a filthy, unqualified mess when I took the helm at the CDE. First, we had it thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom. Later CDE, was rewarded with a new facility, the first platinum LED state building in Sacramento.
As a legislator I stood with labor on every key vote. I wrote legislation cracking down on Unlicensed Contractors, and let us be clear, there never was an unlicensed contractor that used union labor. Prior to that, I had an excellent relationship with our Union City Employee Unions when I was on the City Council.
I was raised in a union family. My father was the shop steward for the Machinists union, and I knew how important that was to our working class family; that is why when I was a community college instructor, I was excited to join the CFT, even though I was not required to as I was only part-time. By the way, my grandfather was a Teamster in San Francisco delivering bread when they drove teams of horses; when he retired and bought a bar he joined the bartender’s union, even though, as an owner, he did not have to. I was brought up to believe in the power of unions to uplift the working class and change lives. My brother was in the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union and later was a Teamster, although he did not drive teams of horses.
When I was no longer a public official I was asked to speak to a graduating class at UC Riverside. Long after I had made that commitment, shortly before I was to speak, I was told AFSCME did not want me to speak. In my family, graduation was among the most important celebrations of my life, and I was disappointed they were asking me to disappoint the students and their families’ graduation. I decided I would speak for the unions as well as the students, and be able to keep my commitment to the University and the students. I acted from my heart, because I always put the children first. I spoke to them, and I opened my speech like this:
“Many of you, like me, are first generation college graduates. My father was a machinist, my mother was a dress clerk. They worked and sacrificed to send me to UC Davis and then to UC Santa Barbara for graduate school and set me on a path filled with amazing opportunities. Today, even as we stand together in celebration, I want to share my support for our UC workers who are fighting for better wages, and thus better opportunities for themselves and their own children and grandchildren.
"The future of the middle and working class is tied to a robust labor movement, and making sure workers have a voice in their workplaces and opportunities for living wages also benefit all of us as a community. Educating about and supporting union workers fighting for a living wage is how we increase understanding of why organized labor is more important now than in many decades as some seek to dismantle union power.”
I want to be clear -- look at my record. Your vote is your own, and I respect that, but if you choose not to support me I hope it is not because someone convinced you that I do not stand with and support unions. It has been a hallmark of my political career. I accept responsibility that as a private citizen I was still sending a message.