City Council member puts unions first

San Jose's building inspectors have been refusing since last week to show up at work. City Councilwoman Nora Campos quietly has been following suit.

Campos, who as a girl marched with her parents alongside farmworker activist Cesar Chavez, hasn't been to City Hall since Wednesday, the day before dozens of workers formed a picket line in front of the downtown tower amid a dispute over disciplinary policies.

"It is a value system that is instilled in me," said Campos, who has been working from home and convening staff meetings at Starbucks. "I continue to honor picket lines. The fact that there is one at City Hall is no different than if there were a picket line for all workers."

City Hall is buzzing over how long Campos, perhaps labor's strongest ally on the city council, will honor the strikers. Some say her move has raised the stakes in the standoff.

And at least one fellow council member is blasting Campos. "We still have a city to run," said Councilman Pete Constant. "We have a responsibility not only to our employees, but all of our residents who are not on strike."

The council is set to talk about the labor dispute in a closed session this morning, and insiders are predicting both sides will settle their differences and forge a new contract by the end of the day.

About 90 members of the Association of Building, Mechanical and Electrical Inspectors walked off the job Thursday - the first strike by city workers in more than 20 years. The group wants the right to appeal disciplinary actions to an outside arbitrator rather than to the city's civil service commission.

Even though Campos hasn't come to work, she says she has remained busy, communicating with her staff through e-mail.

After skipping Thursday's Domestic Violence Joint Meeting between city and Santa Clara County officials and Monday's "Silicon Valley Anti-Litter Campaign" meeting, Campos offered a written explanation to the city clerk's office.

"I am conflicted because it is truly an honor to be a part of this meeting," Campos wrote of the domestic violence event. "However, I must uphold my personal values and respect" the building inspectors "by not crossing their picket line."

Campos received a letter back from those attending the meeting, signed by 18 people. "We respect and support your decision to honor the picket line," they wrote. Union leaders also are pleased with Campos' decision.

"We appreciate the support," said Tom Brim, the union's president. "We respect her very much and thank her for her cooperation."

Brim said picketers this morning will momentarily stop marching in front of the city employees' parking garage so Campos can attend the closed session without crossing the picket line. Campos hopes the issue will be resolved so she can get back to City Hall.

"I am hoping today is the last day I have to do this," Campos said. "I am hoping that in closed session we can have a dialogue and we can come to a resolution."


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