Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson has Earned, and Needs, the Support of the Building Trades

 

By Robbie Hunter, President, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California

May 2014

The tenacious and overwhelming unity of California’s Building Trades unions and workers during the past few election cycles has served us well, resulting in the elections of state officials who care deeply for working families, and who enact policies that reflect that concern.

Among the best of these elected officials is our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, who was elected four years ago. He has been a terrific advocate for the things that we in the Building Trades care about most deeply; things like apprenticeship, prevailing wage, and project labor agreements.

Perhaps because of that sterling record for workers, Superintendent Torlakson faces serious challenges to his re-election from ultra-wealthy, extreme right-wing forces; those same people who tried to silence workers’ voices with Proposition 32 two years ago.

The specific circumstances of this race make Tom’s re-election campaign especially challenging.

First, the election for Superintendent is non-partisan. Voters will not know, by looking at their ballot, whether a candidate is a Democrat or a Republican. This is a disadvantage for Tom, in solidly Democratic pro-worker California. Additionally, California has a system in which the top two vote-getters in the primary (Tuesday, June 3) advance to the November runoff. These off-year elections, unfortunately, and especially primaries, have much lower turnouts than presidential years. Tom has two very well financed anti-worker opponents (a wealthy Wall Street tycoon and a tea-party right-wing radical) whose backers will turn out, and polls point to a close three-way race. If Superintendent Torlakson’s supporters don’t make a strong showing in June, it is entirely possible he could finish third in the primary and fail to even qualify for the November ballot.

We working people simply cannot let that happen, and I’ll tell you why this race matters to us so much.

First, Tom is one of us; a lifelong union member, first as a blue-collar maritime deep sea sailor, in addition to his lengthy career as a school teacher. As a state legislator, he was a champion for expanding the rights of workers to organize and have a voice at the bargaining table. He stood with us when the anti-worker forces wanted to scrap the eight-hour day and lunch breaks. He has been a tireless advocate for prevailing wage on all public works projects, believing in the quality of construction using the most highly trained, streamlined work force to build world-class schools that will last for decades, providing taxpayers the best value for their dollar.

Throughout his career, Tom Torlakson has been a leading advocate for school and infrastructure bonds, helping create billions of dollars worth of good construction jobs by addressing the desperate shortage of classrooms, and expanding and modernizing California’s school facilities.

In 2012, he was a strong voice in rallying and unifying the education community solidly against Proposition 32, helping to preserve the right of all working people’s voices to be heard in election campaigns.

He has consistently advocated for career technical education and for partnering with the Building Trades for effective high school pre-apprenticeship programs for California students who may be better suited for a good career in the trades than for college academics.

Nowhere in our government is there a stronger supporter of project labor agreements, or PLAs, for construction projects. You may remember a few years back, when Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) paid for a sham study that falsely claimed PLAs added to school construction costs. Within days of those phony findings being circulated, Superintendent Tom Torlakson fired off a letter to the board members and superintendents of California’s more than 1,000 local school districts, rebuking the sham study, and convincingly describing the many benefits of using PLAs on school projects. Working families could not have asked for a better job performance from any public servant.

Superintendent Tom Torlakson is a lifelong fighter for children and working families, and he’s delivered results. That’s why the anti-worker, anti-union crowd wants to take him out in June. They can, if we let them.

But as Tom himself told us when he visited our recent executive board meeting, “We are up against big money. But when we are united, when we work together, we have defeated big money time and time again.”

He is right. Now it is up to us in the June 3 primary to unite and beat back big money one more time. Please show up to vote, and encourage your extended family, and friends and colleagues, to stand up for a man who has stood up for our children and public education.