Election 2014: Largest LA public employees union backs Kuehl over Shriver

Bobby Shriver and Sheila Kuehl are competing to succeed LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Bobby Shriver and Sheila Kuehl are competing to succeed LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Shriver Campaign/Kuehl Campaign

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The Service Employees International Union, Local 721 — which represents 90,000 public employees in Southern California — on Monday endorsed former State Senator Sheila Kuehl over another Democrat, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, in the non-partisan race to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. 

Kuehl said she was honored by the union’s decision. “I look forward to working with them to ensure that the hard work they put in … is recognized,” she said in a statement.

Shriver’s campaign strategist, Bill Carrick, pointed to Kuehl's history with the union: It has endorsed her in previous elections. “We started in January from scratch,” he said.

“I think a lot of these rank and file members will continue to support Bobby," Carrick said. "People supported him in the endorsement process.” 

It was a tough choice, said union president Bob Schoonover. “We had two candidates who subscribe to a lot of the things that we like to hear,” he told KPCC. “But Sheila is more experienced and more ready for this job.”

For reasons behind the union's decision to back Kuehl, Schoonover pointed to her work in the state legislature on paid family leave and nurse-patient staffing ratios. A majority of the union’s 42-member executive board endorsed her after the general membership ended up split between the two candidates.

“Normally, 99 times out of 100, the executive board just goes with what members say. In fact, I don’t remember a time when they haven’t,” he said.  

Another union powerhouse, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, gave its endorsement to Kuehl back in July.

Campaign strategists for both candidates expect the race to be close. The district stretches from Hollywood to Santa Monica and includes most of the San Fernando Valley. Kuehl beat Shriver in the primary, 36-29 percent.

Labor unions are looking to secure a pro-union majority on the five member Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and incoming Supervisor Hilda Solis, who will replace Gloria Molina, are considered supportive of unions. Solis served as President Barack Obama’s labor secretary.

“The stakes are very, very high,” said political scientist Jaime Regalado.  “My guess is they are going to bust their butt for Kuehl.”

Among the issues confronting the next board: new labor contracts and a possible minimum wage proposal.

While Shriver, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, is “labor friendly,” he doesn’t have Kuehl’s long record of supporting unions, said Regalado.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor also has endorsed Kuehl.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce backs Shriver.

Carrick noted that several smaller union have endorsed Shriver, including the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. It spent $100,000 backing Shriver in the primary election.

Schoonover would not say how much SEIU plans to spend on Kuehl’s behalf in the general election. “We’re still mapping it out. We’re going to be involved,” he said.