Letter from Retiring Executive Director Bob Muscat

I want to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to the members of Local 21 for the honor of being Local 21’s Executive Director for eleven years. Local 21 has many achievements to be proud of in the union’s more than 40 year history, but together we transformed our union in the last decade. 

Our union has grown from 7,000 to 11,000, including new organizing in Contra Costa County and Sunnyvale. When I started, there was 1 Local 21 office; now there are 4. For the first time in 30 years Local 21 members have taken to picket lines or even gone on strike where the situation was warranted. We have fought off major pension attacks that would have gutted a decent retirement for members in both San Francisco and San Jose, and defended against such proposals by employers at bargaining tables across the Bay Area.

Through our solidarity and creativity, we even became stronger during the great recession. We developed a guiding principal of cooperating with employers by making concessions where they were fair and where management accepted similar concessions. And, when employers asked for more than was needed, and/or would not share in the concessions and tried take advantage of the panic setting in around the recessions, we drew a line and fought back. In San Francisco we saved our retirement program and retiree health insurance by fighting off Prop B and winning Prop C instead. In contrast, we fought the City of San Jose in Court for three years until they rescinded the Mayor’s unliteral elimination of the retirement plan (Prop B) and negotiated a compromise settlement that was responsible and fair to everyone. 

As I approach retirement I think about my dad, who was a strong union member when I was growing up right here in San Francisco. However, his union wasn’t run well and didn’t communicate with the membership sufficiently.  One time his union shut down the plant where he worked and called a strike, but he and his coworkers had no idea why. I didn’t give up on the potential for unions though, but rather dedicated more than 50 years of my career to managing unions to run intelligently, communicate creatively, and employ the smartest most responsive staff.  I loved the solidarity between my dad and his coworkers, and realized there was no way a working person could support a family, buy a home, put kids through college, etc. without a union. He realized it too, turning down several offers by management to join their ranks in order to stay union.

At Local 21 the combination of the emerging leadership stars and the talented staff gives me great optimism and confidence as I slow my own life down. Doing this work has never gotten old for me and I couldn’t be happier as I depart. The future of our union is very bright.

Two closing thoughts.  First, the importance of working with other unions on our common goals. We have supported and chaired the Public Employee Committee (PEC) in San Francisco because 26 different unions representing City employees and working independently on issues like health insurance and pensions makes no sense.  Local 21 has brought all 25 unions together through the PEC.  We have done the same coalition building by reaching out to other unions in all our jurisdictions including Contra Costa County, San Jose and elsewhere.  I hope it continues because this is true labor solidarity, and coordination increases the power of the public workers in all unions. 

Second, we have a responsibility to use the power and leverage we have to extend beyond our economic self-interest and work towards the effectiveness and success of the Bay Area governments where our members work.  A broad goal of making the Bay Area governments we work for also be the most effective will bring the personal fulfillment all of us need beyond our economic interests. I care about San Jose, San Francisco, Contra Costa, Oakland, all the jurisdictions where Local 21 members demonstrate their professional skills. I hope the union continues to run in a way that helps them to succeed.

Thanks again for all your support. I wish all 11,000 of you and your families the very best professionally and personally.  Do me one last favor, if you haven’t signed the “Gold Card”, please do. We are all in this together, and the only way to ensure that you have a place at the table with your employers in the future is to be a member of your union.