The Working Partnerships USA executive’s signature appears on county contracts that included salary reimbursements for herself, South Bay Labor Council’s then-chief of staff and current chief executive, Ben Field, and other key campaign officials. The county gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Working Partnerships USA, including more than $200,000 to expand local anti-smoking ordinances and encourage union workers to take walks, eat vegetables and drink fruit juice.
Because WPUSA and SBLC won’t release their books, it’s impossible to know for sure if the public money went where it was intended, but other activities going on at the same time suggest that priorities other than fruit juices and power walks dominated the labor groups’ agendas.
The county funded the health program as Chavez’s team attempted to unseat San Jose Councilwoman Rose Hererra, worked to pass a half-billion dollar county sales tax and campaigned to raise San Jose’s minimum wage. And SBLC’s political arm, overseen by Chavez and Field, fed volunteers food from a pizzeria, a taqueria, Costco and Subway.
A March 2, 2012 “Tobacco Intervention” contract for $82,739 with Santa Clara County included $49,865 in salary payments, $17,453 in fringe benefits, $4,987 in administrative overhead, $2,992 in general office supplies, $1,500 in “meals for meetings,” $1,660 in telephone expenses and $$2,992 in “general expenses” that included postage, equipment leases, printing and operational expenses.
A second $151,899 contract for “obesity prevention,” the amended version of which was signed by Chavez on Sept. 13, 2012, contributed additional funds for Field’s and Chavez’s salaries.
The tobacco and obesity contracts also provided funds towards the salaries of South Bay Labor Council Organizing Director Derecka Mehrens and Jamie Chen, two leaders in the Measure D minimum wage campaign, and Working Partnerships Policy Director Bob Brownstein.
Even though it describes itself as a nonprofit “think tank,” Working Partnerships’ expenses rise during key election years, as charted in a previous San Jose Inside article.
The initial tobacco contract ran through Sept. 18, 2012, and the obesity contract continues through June 29, 2013—past the date of the District 2 supervisorial primary in which Chavez is a candidate.
The documents released by Santa Clara County illustrate the ease with which funds and personnel flow between the two organizations—in apparent violation of Internal Revenue Service law. Working Partnerships USA is a 501c3 charity that’s prohibited from using its resources to support or oppose candidates, and the South Bay Labor Council is a labor union political group that recruits candidates and works to elect individuals to public office. Field and Chavez principally worked for SBLC—not the county-funded WPUSA.
Salaries are allocated between the two groups according to arbitrary formulas and amongst its county contracts without supporting documents. For example, Working Partnerships’ 2011 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 shows $63,564 in salary and $11,023 in benefits to Chavez for 15 hours of work per week. Presumably she worked another 25 hours per week at South Bay Labor Council until her December 2012 resignation to go full time with Working Partnerships.
In the Obesity Prevention contract, 2 percent of Chavez’s $65,000 was charged to the county program, while 5 percent of Field’s WPUSA time and 5 percent of Mehrens’ hours were devoted to helping Santa Clara County residents stay slim.
Chavez spent another 4 percent of her 15 hours on the public dime—exactly 36 minutes per week—encouraging county residents to adopt a tobacco-free lifestyle, according to another contract with the county. The effort to promote “Smoke-free Outdoor Dining” and banish butts from “Outdoor Common Areas of Multi-Family Residences” paid for 8 percent of Brownstein’s $95,000 salary and 15 percent of Mehrens’ $75,000 salary.
Along with one other WPUSA staff member, Chavez, Brownstein and Mehrens were dispatched to “assess the political environment” and gather “stakeholder and partner input to inform the power analysis” and “solidify support,” according to WPUSA reports to the county.
WPUSA’s Communications Director, novelist Jody Meacham, was also paid by the county to influence the expansion of San Jose’s anti-smoking laws. “We have recruited a community leader to co-author an op-ed, and worked with the Mercury News editorial board to place it in advance of the city council meeting,” a February 2012 progress report noted. “We drafted two letters to the editor in support of the ordinance and recruited two signers to submit them.”
As part of the obesity prevention campaign, county funds were used to help unionized electricians, plumbers, carpenters and ironworkers eat healthier foods. “A minimum of 50% of snack or meal options made available to volunteers at the Labor Center will be healthier snack/meal options in accordance with the County of Santa Clara Nutritional Standards,” the program documents list as an objective.
The program’s scope included “taste testing of healthy foods that could be purchased and served to staff, volunteers and union workers” as well as a “no sugar-sweetened beverages” policy that would provide WPUSA’s staff with “water, 100% fruit juice (limited to 8 oz servings/containers) or other unsweetened beverage options.”
In addition, according to the county-released documents, “WPUSA will provide a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks to all staff at least three days per week” and “a walking club will be established to promote physical activity among WPUSA staff and union workers.”
But during the Oct. 21 to Dec. 31, 2012 period, when the South Bay Labor Council’s political committee was precinct walking for the November election, its Form 460 shows more than 375 line items for food purchases from Costco, Safeway and local fast food restaurants. The food was used to feed volunteers who supported Measures A, D, E and Prop 30 and opposed Prop 32, according to the public filing. The purchases include 22 entries totaling $871 at a local pizzeria, 20 at Subway, eight at Aroma Coffee and Snacks and 14 at La Costa del Sol Taqueria y Pupuseria.
While protecting county residents from the negative health effects for extra pounds and tobacco use, WPUSA’s multi-tasking team also led the county’s policy development for health-care reform implementation, for which it was paid $193,328 in salary, benefits and administrative overhead. And WPUSA received a $272,424 county contract for voter outreach and registration.
Each contract was voted on by the Board of Supervisors and signed off by the Office of the County Executive and a county program manager.