Brown makes lit­tle time for unions

San Francisco Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER - By Joe Garo­foli CHRON­I­CLE STAFF WRITER E-mail Joe Garo­foli at jgaro­foli@sfchron­i­cle.com.

SACRA­MENTO — Per­haps never in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory has the po­lit­i­cal sym­bol­ism of a hot-dog feed been so closely an­a­lyzed.

Two hours af­ter Gov. Jerry Brown was in­au­gu­rated Mon­day, hot dogs be­came an­other chap­ter in his re­la­tion­ship with pub­lic em­ployee unions whose sup­port was in­stru­men­tal to his re­turn to the gover­nor’s of­fice — and whose co­op­er­a­tion will be crit­i­cal to his suc­cess deal­ing with Cal­i­for­nia’s $28 bil­lion bud­get deficit.

The 18,000-mem­ber Orange County Em­ploy­ees As­so­ci­a­tion, the county’s largest union, threw a free hot-dog party on the Capi­tol grounds af­ter Brown’s swear­ing-in. Or­ga­niz­ers ex­pected Brown to speak briefly at what they dubbed the “Peo­ple’s In­au­gu­ra­tion Party.”

But Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, by­passed the mi­cro­phone set up in­side the mas­sive tent and in­stead grabbed dogs and greeted a few of the dozens of peo­ple wait­ing in line for a free sandwich.

Within min­utes, the Browns left. There was no speech.

While event or­ga­niz­ers tried to put a pos­i­tive spin on it, some of the peo­ple wait­ing for Brown to speak booed, think­ing he blew off the speech to make a point.

“I think it’s bull-,” said Steve Trom­betta, a high school teacher from Grass Val­ley who waited two hours to hear Brown speak. “He doesn’t have to kow-tow to the unions, but at least come here and tell us what you’re go­ing to do.”

Brown’s han­dlers said through­out the morn­ing that they didn’t know which postin­au­gu­ral events he would at­tend, or when. Brown spoke for about a minute later in the af­ter­noon, at a pri­vate, no-press re­cep­tion spon­sored by the 1.3 mil­lion-mem­ber Cal­i­for­nia La­bor Fed­er­a­tion at a nearby ho­tel.

Through­out his cam­paign, Brown’s crit­ics claimed he was bought and paid for by unions — given that pub­lic and pri­vate­sec­tor unions were in­stru­men­tal in rais­ing mil­lions of cam­paign dol­lars for him and get­ting vot­ers to the polls.

But Brown’s inaugural speech Mon­day at Me­mo­rial Au­di­to­rium was full of flour­ishes — both philo­soph­i­cal and lit­eral — in which he said unions shouldn’t ex­pect any fa­vors.

The gover­nor re­ferred to a “phi­los­o­phy of loy­alty” that calls for a “de­vo­tion to Cal­i­for­nia above and be­yond our nar­row per­spec­tives.”

More point­edly, he said: “We will have to look at our sys­tem of pen­sions and how to en­sure that they are trans­par­ent and ac­tu­ar­i­ally sound and fair — fair to the work­ers and fair to the tax­pay­ers.”

There was no ap­plause from the au­di­ence af­ter that line Mon­day, and one union leader at the hot-dog event said he wasn’t sure how much more work­ers can give.

“I don’t think he was talk­ing about our pen­sions,” said Cal­i­for­nia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers Pres­i­dent Marty Hit­tel­man, who added that the av­er­age teacher’s pen­sion is about $35,000. “I don’t know what else we can give up.”

Still, many union mem­bers and lead­ers say they’re ready to give.

“Peo­ple re­al­ize it — they know what kind of state we’re in,” said Aaron Read, a Sacra­mento lob­by­ist whose firm rep­re­sents Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers, who en­dorsed Brown.

Brown’s chal­lenge will be coax­ing give­backs from unions while not mak­ing them feel put-out. The gover­nor will need la­bor’s sup­port if he is go­ing to ask vot­ers for a tax in­crease, along with ma­jor cuts, to help bal­ance the bud­get.

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