We’re Business and Labor Leaders. We Agree Sheng Thao Will Be the Mayor Who Can Unite Oakland.

By Daniel Swafford and Becky Rhodes

People often see labor and business at odds. As a leader in the business community and as the Political Director of the Alameda Labor Council respectively, we had the pleasure of coming together in a collaborative, working partnership because of the leadership of Sheng Thao. We both wholeheartedly agree that the #1 choice for voters for Mayor of Oakland in November should be Sheng Thao, because she’s the leader who is already bridging important divides in our city, bringing diverse interests like ours together, and making real progress that benefits all Oaklanders.

A noted budget expert at City Hall, Councilmember Thao’s colleagues often seek her out for fiscal and budgetary guidance. As a Councilmember, Sheng has racked up an impressive number of budgetary wins that have made a difference across the city. Most recently, she secured $2 million in desperately needed State funding to revitalize parks in East Oakland. She has also helped double the City’s budget for street paving, made major investments in other parks throughout the city, and solved a decades-old budget dispute that kept Chabot Space and Science Center fiscally solvent, preserving critical STEM programs for Oakland youth. 

But what impressed us most was her leadership in negotiating the thorny debate between business and labor around the creation of Oakland’s progressive business tax. Oakland’s business tax structure currently taxes big and small businesses at the same rate. To update our business tax and cut taxes for Oakland’s small businesses requires a vote from the public. Thanks to Sheng Thao’s leadership, business and labor reached a deal that creates a progressive tax structure, meaning big businesses that make more pay more and small businesses will pay less.

In late 2021 through early 2022, business and labor were at a major impasse - there were, at least, three different and competing versions of the bill. This meant that the ability to generate critical revenue for City services was in jeopardy. The differences were big with one proposal requiring bigger businesses to pay $8M in additional taxes and a competing measure, proposing that big businesses pay over $40M. With multiple ballot measures potentially headed for the ballot, there was a strong likelihood that our various communities would be divided, that all of the measures would fail, and that Oakland would be left without money we desperately need for homelessness services, public safety, and infrastructure. 

So both sides called in the only City leader they could both agree on, someone who could bring people together and negotiate a deal each side could live with: Sheng Thao. Both business and labor called on Sheng for several reasons. Her budgetary experience, her deep knowledge of the details of the City budget, and the fact that she is trusted by folks across the spectrum. Even if we don’t all agree with Sheng on everything (and who agrees with anyone on everything? ), we all knew we could trust her to negotiate in good faith and work out a fair, substantive, and sustainable deal that benefits as many Oaklanders as possible. 

So Sheng came in. She listened. She sought concessions and compromise from both sides. She brought the sides together, and she helped work out a compromise ballot measure that both sides could all live with because it benefits Oakland. 

There is now one measure on the November ballot, Measure T, Oakland’s progressive business tax which both labor and business support. That’s quite an accomplishment. This measure will reduce taxes on small businesses, raise them on big corporations so they pay their fair share, and generate $21 million in needed revenues to fund public safety, affordable housing, homeless services, parks, libraries, and road paving. 

This is no exaggeration: Sheng Thao brought both business and labor to the table and got it done. She showed real leadership, patience, and the ability to listen. And it’s why Sheng Thao should be the next Mayor of Oakland. Sheng cut through the noise, found common ground, and got the results needed to move Oakland forward.  

Daniel Swafford is the Executive Director of the Montclair Village Association and Laurel District Association, and an appointee to the Blue Ribbon Business Tax License Task Force. 

Becky Rhodes is the Political Director of the Alameda Labor Council.