SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California state union's big donation to defend Gov. Gavin Newsom from recall likely heralds a coming show of support from organized labor, according to union representatives and experts.
The Professional Engineers in California Government, which represents about 11,000 state engineers, recently contributed $250,000 to the main campaign committee supporting Newsom.
Last week, the Secretary of State's Office announced the recall campaign had submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, a milestone that is expected to usher in more money from Democratic-leaning groups supporting the governor.
Planning is underway to fire up a campaign machine that has lain largely dormant amid the pandemic, said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation.
The federation represents about 1,200 unions around the state with about 2.1 million members. Smith said the group's executive council will decide at an upcoming meeting, likely in the second week of May, whether and to what extent to support the governor.
"I would guess that by the end of May we'll be in full campaign mode to defend the governor against the recall," Smith said.
The donation from the engineers' union was the second-largest so far to the anti-recall effort, behind only the California Democratic Party, which has contributed about $613,000, according to campaign committee totals.
Ted Toppin, the engineers' union's executive director, said the decision to support Newsom was an easy one.
"Gov. Newsom has committed to invest in state infrastructure, address climate change and ensure Californians have clean air and water," Toppin said. "That is the critical work of state engineers, and his administration supports those goals. And on the other hand, the candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring, these folks are largely anti-government, anti-public employees and against investing in infrastructure and environmental solutions."
Newsom has had his disagreements with prominent unions, some brought on by the pandemic, since he was elected with broad support from them in 2018.
In 2019, he vetoed three bills championed by the State Building and Construction Trades Council that would have bolstered prevailing wage requirements for a range of new construction projects.
He has butted heads with teachers' unions on school reopenings over the past year, and he cut state workers' wages to prepare for a budget crisis that never fully materialized. The pay cuts remain in place.
"That is not at play here," Toppin said. "We will resolve that at the bargaining table where it belongs. This is simply reaffirming our support for the governor of California. We supported him in 2018 and that does not change in 2021."
The California Teachers Association is holding off a little while longer, citing the possibility that a significant portion of the 1.6 million recall supporters who signed a qualifying petition might withdraw their support.
"Right now, our educators are focused on safe, in-person classroom instruction," CTA spokeswoman Lisa Gardiner said in an email. "The California Teachers Association has not yet taken a position on the recall because we're still within the 30-day window in which signatures can be withdrawn."'
Smith said he couldn't estimate how much money the labor federation might contribute, but he said the group's ground-level campaign would form the crux of its support.
That support will be critical in an election off-year, said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.
"That's why labor could play such an important role, is the capacity to turn people out," Jacobs said. "There's just no other set of organizations in the state that have that kind of field capacity."
Anne Dunsmore, campaign manager for pro-recall group Rescue California, acknowledged labor's likely role while saying the pro-recall effort has momentum of its own, reflected in the number of petition-signers the group has already reached.
"I'm not afraid of labor's impact," she said. "There is such a thing as overkill, and it's a long way from election day and a lot can change. And (Newsom) seems to have a knack for irritating people in his own base."