The New Face of Labor?

More than a quarter century ago, Amy Dean took the helm of the South Bay Labor Council and ushered in a new generation of leadership for the local labor movement, an event that has shaped the region’s political culture ever since.

The upstarts, as inevitably happens, turned into an old guard, however.

A succession of labor-aligned electeds—Terry Gregory, George Shirakawa, Mike Honda, Xavier Campos—crashed and burned in corruption scandals.

The survivors, Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese, became more interested in cultivating power for power’s sake than in transformation.

Since the downfall of Mayor Ron Gonzales and Chavez’s defeat by Chuck Reed in the 2006 race to succeed him, labor has been the minority party at City Hall.

The police union suffered a debacle during Reed’s administration, and Liccardo’s administration has only been a bit friendlier to unions, out of pragmatism and a better economy during his first term.

The campaign to shift the power equation through a ballot measure blew up last month.

SBLC exec Ben Field cut a deal with City Hall to switch dates and in doing so, managed to simultaneously infuriate both factions of a divided labor machine: the five-member council faction that opposes the fair elections-strong mayor compromise and the law enforcement and trade unions that support it.

On Monday, Field went before his executive board and pulled the grenade pin, as one insider put it, ending with a bang and a surprise end to his decade-long reign as a union executive. On Tuesday, the Labor Council executive board met again.

SBLC will no longer get behind the electoral reform package that Field and Chavez championed, but individual unions will be free to support it.

The SBLC reportedly also passed the torch, at least on an interim basis, to Jean Cohen, its first vice president. Cohen is also vice chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and the political and communications director of UA Local Union 393, which represents plumbers, steamfitters and HVAC technicians.

The self-described party activist and organizer is born and bred in San Jose and better aligned with the restless council minority and the new social change forces unleashed by the recent protest movements.

Her mother is a retired 35-year school teacher. Her father was a newspaper columnist, drummer and union representative who co-founded the San Jose Jazz Festival. Her grandfather was an activist and gadfly who’d been involved in Chicago ward politics before moving to Santa Clara Valley.

“I have the values and experience to help build power to advance a progressive, impactful, and inclusive agenda. My goals include activating our platform and members to win pro-worker, pro-immigrant, pro-women, pro-environment policies through organizing, electoral politics and coalition building,” Cohen wrote in her ballot statement for state party delegate. Later in the same statement, she added: “my career has encompassed local government, the labor movement, and the non-profit sector to fight poverty, empower marginalized communities and build social and economic justice through public policy and organizing.”

Cohen and SBLC officials were unavailable to confirm the appointment, so this is an unfolding story that will be updated as new information becomes available.


  1. I see Jean Cohen at the Santa Clara County Democratic Party for several years. I can say this, she has no sense of humour. I don’t think I’ve ever seem her smile. she might be perfect for this job. Kinda mean.

  2. > The survivors, Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese, became more interested in cultivating power for power’s sake than in transformation.

    These are the worst type of people to be elected or appointed to public office.

    Morons, random number generators or even Republicans would offer fairer and more competent governance.

  3. Hi there. You are sexist. Telling a woman in leadership to “smile more” is sexist. Calling her humorless (really? “Humour” you sound pompous) is sexist. I also happen to be a woman in leadership at the Party, her colleague on the Board, and I hear sexist microaggressions like yours frequently. I will be sorely disappointed in finding out that I have probably spoken to you, a mysogynistic sexist, in person.

  4. This is wonderful news. i’m positive that Jean will be stellar as acting Executive Director for the South Bay Labor Council. She is awesome!!!

  5. David Cortese is running for District 15 Senate seat. David Cortese should retire and not be anywhere near the CA State Senate. We can show him the door. It’s rare, but we can deny him this coveted seat …

  6. In December, after a 9-year suspension resulting from numerous serious incidents of misconduct as a prosecutor, Ben Field finally got his law license back. So now he’s free to relinquish his SBLC safe harbor, resurrect his necktie collection, and go on to chase bigger bucks practicing law.

  7. > So now he’s free to relinquish his SBLC safe harbor, resurrect his necktie collection, and go on to chase bigger bucks practicing law.

    There’s a shortage of lawyers?

    I had no idea.

  8. Labor had their chance as the inside, and you Dan, both know. I ran in 2006 against Manny Diaz and Sam. Manny was the Shoe in. Because “labor” had already Endorsed him. Yes, as the super delegates of the Democratic Party like to do.
    In the meeting for “an endorsement” they told me i had to stump for Cindy Chavez, that is a joke. She was in on it with Gonzalez.
    However, the split labor faction, wasn’t so split. They wanted me, I was on the front line. Doing more work for the people than All the candidates combined.
    Writing and taking hits for my writing here in inside. But “labor” had an endorsement already. Now that Is what gets them in trouble here again. They made back room deals and don’t care about the union members or the citizenry.
    Labor Should have, could have And would have endorsed me. But as you say Cindy had already appointed herself queen.
    Well, here we are.
    Games up. The Democratic Party is a plantation as the congressman from Georgia explains.
    And Liccardo is playing the Game they run better than most. Censure liccardo. He’s a gas bag.

  9. Sexist? Smiling and Humor are Sexist?
    That’s just idiotic stupidity, and if that’s the way you think you shouldn’t be on the board of anything.

  10. I was in unions for decades. When you learned “They made back room deals and don’t care about the union members or the citizenry”, that’s the biggest lesson and truth.

    I haven’t seen a union that was for the actual worker. It is all politics. The latest I read was about the various CA teachers unions. Do you want kids to go back to school? The unions don’t, but it has nothing to do with the health and safety of children. The demands have very little, or nothing, to do with the health and safety of children or teachers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *