Working Partnerships Rides Half-Million Dollar County Gravy Train

When Teresa Alvarado announced that she was running for George Shirakawa’s vacated county supervisor seat, County Executive Jeff Smith helpfully forwarded the email to Working Partnership USA’s executive team: Bob Brownstein and Cindy Chavez. The latter of the two, of course, was preparing for her own run for the same District 2 seat. “I knew Cindy was also thinking about running,” Smith says, “so I just thought I would let her know somebody else would jump in the race.” Smith was also thoughtful enough to forward to the WPUSA team each announcement related to Shirakawa’s resignation, and the reaction statements by supes Ken Yeager and Dave Cortese. But just in case Bob and Cindy didn’t feel like they were properly in the loop, Smith had the good graces to forward them a number of internal staff memos as well. “We’ve been working with Working Partnerships on a stakeholders health care reform group,” he explains, “so I just thought it was significant enough to let them know what was going on.” Working Partnerships has been the recipient of at least $518,163 from the cash-challenged county in the past two years, performing a grab bag of services ranging from a “collaborative partnership to develop business plan for energy retrofit project” to employment training, providing nutritional advice to county workers, undertaking voter registration drives and performing flash mob skits at Santana Row to discourage tobacco use.

San Jose Inside Extra:
The forwarding of memos to Chavez and Brownstein by County Executive Smith highlights the cozy relationship between the County of Santa Clara and Working Partnerships USA, the organization led by longtime labor union executive and current supervisor candidate Chavez.

WPUSA is joined at the hip to the powerful South Bay Labor Council (SBLC), with whom it has historically shared offices, facilities, equipment, political objectives and allocated employees. WPUSA calls itself a “think tank” and it receives county funding to manage projects. As a 501c3 tax exempt nonprofit, WPUSA is prohibited from participating in political campaigns on behalf of candidates.

SBLC, however, is a political organization. It endorsed three of the four sitting supervisors as well as former supervisor George Shirakawa, Jr. Two of the supervisors—Ken Yeager and Dave Cortese—are widely viewed as closely aligned with SBLC and Working Partnerships.

Last year, SBLC led the effort to raise county sales taxes by $500 million over the next ten years and to increase San Jose’s minimum wage by 25 percent. It also endorsed 70 candidates for political office.

Money has historically flowed from the richer 501c3, the beneficiary of foundation grants and government contracts, to the politically active SBLC, which relies on a shrinking base of union dues and has a much smaller budget. Working Partnerships had a budget of $1.25 million in 2010 and $1.9 million in 2011, according to its 2010 and 2011 IRS Form 990 filings.

Based on the newly released documents obtained via San Jose Inside’s public records request, the county’s contracts represented about 15 percent of Working Partnerships’ revenues for those years.

The money paid to Working Partnerships includes:

1. $48,000 as part of a Novmber 2011 agreement to provide “life management, financial literacy education, nontraditional or green job training and ... employment for women from under-served populations (including female offenders)”

2. A $30,000 contract signed in January 2011 “to provide consultation services in the planning and development of a comprehensive Medical Home Model program associated with the Section 1115 MediCal Waiver’s coverage expansion”

3. An October 3, 2011 contract to conduct a six-month campaign to reduce tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke. Cost: $82,739

4. A $95,000 “obesity prevention’ program contract that directly contributed $ 29,864 to the salaries of Chavez, Brownstein, SBLC head Ben Field. The contract called for WPUSA to conduct meetings at union halls to improve the quality of food and beverages Carpenters, Ironworkers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Plumbers and Steamfitters and SEIU union members. The contract was twice increased, most recently to $151,899 and extended to June 29, 2013, resulting in $66,432 in additional contributions to offset the salaries of Chavez, Brownstein, Field and other WPUSA and SBLC key employees.

5. A $100,000 contract dated December 16, 2011 for “Voter Education and Outreach” to 18- to 24-year-old Vietnamese and Hispanic youth. The contract was later increased to $272,424. Deliverables included:

    •  Call young Vietnamese and Hispanic voters to encourage them to vote and provide assistance with any questions they may have

    •  Visit the homes of young Vietnamese and Hispanic voters to encourage them to vote and provide assistance with any questions they may have

    •  Conduct phone banking and precinct walking, contacting 7,000 voters through phone and 2,000 voters through door-to-door precinct walking

    •  Conduct outreach, education and voter registration events at meetings of Vietnamese and Hispanic student groups at high schools and colleges (Overfelt, Yerba Buena, James Lick, Independence, Andrew Hill, San Jose High, Gilroy High, Christopher High, Mount Madonna Continuation, and Gilroy Early College Academy)

    •  College voter outreach events at San Jose City College, San Jose State University, Evergreen Valley College, Gavilan College and National Hispanic University

    •  Disseminate 20,000 voter registration cards to to Vietnamese and Hispanic youth 18-24 years old and register 3,500 voters

    •  Coordinate at least two media events

    •  Increase voter turnout by at least 5% among Vietnamese and Hispanic youth 18-24 years old in the November 2012

    •  Reach 15,000 voter households by phone or door-to-door contact

    •  Send out 10,000 pieces of voter outreach mail

6. An agreement dated Jan. 1, 2012, for Working Partnerships USA to create and staff a “Health Care Reform Implementation Stakeholders Working Group,” for which WPUSA would receive $193,328 for salary, benefits and administrative overhead and the Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU) would receive $33,333. The county commission is chaired by WPUSA’s Robert Brownstein, and another WPUSA employee sits on the 18-member body.

Click to view the documents:

1. WPUSA Consulting Contract for Life Management and Job Training
1a. Amendment to WPUSA Life Skills and Job Training Contract
2. WPUSA Medical Home Model Consulting Contract
3. 3. WPUSA Anti-Tobacco Use Contract
4. WPUSA Obesity Prevention Contract
4a. Amendment to WPUSA Obesity Prevention Contract
4b. Amendment to WPUSA Obesity Prevention Contract
5. WPUSA Voter Registration Contract
6. WPUSA Health Care Reform Implementation Stakeholders Working Group Contract

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.


  1. I’m glad you didn’t run this story on April 1 because I wouldn’t believe it.  This is outrageous stuff.  Smith appears neither honest or smart.  Let’s hope Wasserman straps on a set and does something about it.

  2. Hey San Jose Inside I get that you are hell bent on smearing Chavez and anything within arms reach of her but all Im getting out of this article is that she did a whole lot to help the community by addressing and tackling serious issues such as second hand smoke, obesity and the need for minorities in our community to be educated and registered to vote and all for $500k. You are barking up the wrong tree and your front page vendata against her is getting tiresome.  I’d rather know about why Herrara’s District 8 only has one active and running community center located in the posh evergreen area while there is another fascade of a community center Meadowfair which is located in the needy,gang infested and grafitti drenched eastside of san Jose(which is still Rose Herrera’s D8) that instead of functioning as a community center as stated on the city’s website and even on the building located at 2696 King Rd is actually a Kidango that only serves and acts as a for pay daycare for preschoolers . This community needs a community center not a sign that says community cneter and is a Kidango!!!

    • I don’t see the smear, dmc. The documents pretty much speak for themselves. In fact the writer pretty much copied the descriptions of the services that WPUSA provided verbatim directly from their own descriptions, from what I can see on the linked documents.

      The questions that taxpayers should be asking include whether WPUSA is the most qualified provider of health care-related services. Whether Ben Field’s salary should be charged to a county contract. He was the political director and now the head of a union political advocacy group, after all.

      And how many organizations did they sell this bill of goods to? Did David & Lucile Packard Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Mitchell Kapor Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, etc. also pay for items that were paid for with our tax dollars via county contract.

      Anybody can look at this and see where the labor groups’ energy is going — into hits Herrera for breaking party discipline on pension reform, rather than on obesity prevention and tobacco education. No $2 million organization can do all of these things competently. It looks like a lot of fluff and fuzzy social service proposal language to me.

      If they are doing so much good work, WPUSA should open its books, grant interviews, be transparent and let the world see all the great things they are doing to make the world a better place. Instead, they rely on secrecy and backroom activities, the mark of people who have something to hide.

    • When you run for public office, you sign up for that. And when you take hundreds of thousands of dollars in county money, public scrutiny comes with the contract.

      We are talking about more than half a million bucks here. If even a fifth of the money was misspent, then it will be a Shirakawa-level scandal in terms of the size of the damage.

    • > tackling serious issues such as second hand smoke, obesity ….

      “second hand smoke” is not a serious issue.

      It’s just community organizer fear mongering.  No one ever dies from “second hand smoke”.


      Duh. Look around.

      If someone is supposedly “tackling” obesity, obesity ran over them, scored a touchdown, spiked the football, and did a chest bump with ten other fatties.

  3. A lot of this stuff is really starting to look the Federal equivalent of “black projects”.  These are the secret defense projects like the Blackbird and F-117 Stealth Fighter.  The popular belief is that these projects are funded by money supposedly spent to fund things like $10,000 toilet seats and the like.

    The County equivalent is funding anti-smoking initiatives, job training, anti-obesity initiatives; and having the money actually spent on political candidates and initiatives.

    I think this issue has so many moving parts that the political types are still trying to figure out if this is going to hurt or help their interests.  As a citizen, I could care less if so-and-so wins or loses.  I just know that I’m the loser.

    • You ‘get it’ this whole Nonprofit thing is one gigantic scheme that allows sitting elected government officials to funnel tax payer money to their politically connected cronies pockets under the guise of carrying out manufactured public policy. 

      This website currently has writer who is one of those who makes his living running nonprofits and producing events that are funded by the Mayor and City Council’s generous diversions of our tax dollars. This makes SJI’s recent interest in this topic either totally disingenuous or naive.

      This IS the culture of politics in this city and the county. You either expose ALL OF IT with impunity or shut up and accept it.

      • Nothing wrong with nonprofits if they provide a service for less than government.  Lots do.  But some are just political organizations in disguise.

      • Just wait until San Jose SPUR gets their day in the sun. another NON PROFIT, living off the backs of tax paying citizens.

        Oh Mr Liccardo, what will you do then? Things aren’t so easy to conceal these days like they were when Daddy, Rufus, and old Uncle Tom McEnry were pulling their shenanigans. How fast will you peddle then? Not on the downtown sidewalks, of course.

  4. > 2. A $30,000 contract signed in January 2011 “to provide consultation services in the planning and development of a comprehensive Medical Home Model program associated with the Section 1115 MediCal Waiver’s coverage expansion”

    Well, if they had asked me, I probably could have done this for $28,000 or $29,000.

    My budget would look like this:

    1. Oversize Gucci leather briefcase to hold $29,750 cash in small unmarked bills:  $250

    2. Stipend to junior college social studies student to write term paper on: “Plan for development of a comprehensive Medical Home Model program associated with the Section 1115 MediCal Waiver’s coverage expansion:”  $200

    3. Obamacare Health Care coverage from California Insurance Exchange: $26,500

    4. Contributions to retirement pension plan: $2,000

    5. Rainy day fund, contingency reserve,  and allowance for preparation and copying of next grant request: $50