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By Dick Meister

San Francisco unions have a great opportunity to join together against one of their greatest foes -- a major enemy as well of affordable housing and neighborhood preservation advocates.

That would be Joe O'Donoghue, head of the Residential Builders Association.  President Larry Mazzola of the Building and Construction Trades Council describes him as "under-handed, wily, vindictive, and tenacious ... a blustering, anti-labor, union-busting individual who has, along with members of his association, become wealthy by performing construction work in San Francisco under non-union conditions."

Thanks to the association's domination of the City Planning Department and alliance with Mayor Willie Brown, that work has included lucrative developments approved by the City despite their negative impact on the community.

Now O'Donoghue is trying to discredit the Carpenters Union, probably the strongest of the association's labor opponents.  He's claiming that members of the union who mounted an informational picket line to protest the use of non-union carpenters by his right-hand man, contractor Joe Cassidy, had engaged in "contemptible" anti-Catholic, anti-Irish conduct.  That supposedly occurred on the site of a building project at a Noe Valley church in January.

Citing the carpenters' alleged misconduct, O'Donoghue demanded that the United Irish Societies bar the union from this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

That would have been a serious affront to the Carpenters, whose Local 22 long has held an important place in San Francisco's Irish American community.  But despite O'Donoghue's position as chairman and chief financial backer of the parade, members of the Irish Societies refused to bar the Carpenters or even consider his allegations against the union.  As they noted, the National Labor Relations Board  is the forum for hearing such charges.

As he often does when crossed, O'Donoghue reacted furiously. He immediately resigned as parade chairman and withdrew himself and the builders' association from any participation.  That was a great blow to the St. Patrick's Day plans, for the association had been expected to provide about $100,000 -- at least half the budget -- for the parade and related festivities.

That's where the rest of the city's unions come in -- or should, if they heed the Building and Construction Trades Council.

Several unions had come to the carpenters' defense by warning the United Irish Societies that if the Carpenters Union was barred from the parade, no other union would participate. And now Trades Council President Mazzola is asking unions generally to help make up some of the heavy loss of parade funds caused by O'Donoghue's withdrawal of support.

As Mazzola said, it was "outrageous retribution designed to severely injure the Societies" for refusing to go along with an  attempt  by O'Donoghue "to do  irreparable  injury to the Carpenters Union and indirectly to the entire labor movement."

Mazzola suggests that unions buy as many tickets as possible far a fund-raising dinner the United Irish Societies is holding at the St. Francis Hotel on March 14. His own union, Plumbers Local 38, and several others already have bought tickets at $100 each.

Beyond that, Mazzola is urging union members to turn out in full force for the St. Patrick's Day parade March 16.  It would be a fitting response to the anti-union and anti-community efforts of profit-lusting Joe O'Donoghue and his associates and a fitting tribute to the Irish Americans who have played a key role "in advancing workers' rights and building the American labor movement."

Copyright 2003 Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based freelance columnist who has covered labor issues for four decades as a reporter, editor and commentator.

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