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Twitter Tax Break Faces Surprise Challenge from Public Union

 
SEIU Local 1021 calls measure a "taxpayer handout," threatens referendum

A tax break designed to keep Twitter in San Francisco that earlier this week appeared all but guaranteed to pass is now meeting with opposition from San Francisco's largest public-employee union.

“It’s a taxpayer handout to a $10 billion company at a time we’re cutting basic city services,” Roxanne Sanchez, the president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said Thursday.

The move by one of the city’s most powerful and well-funded organizations, with 17,000 members, raised the possibility of a protracted fight over a measure that proponents — including the mayor — say is desperately needed to spur economic growth in the distressed mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods. The measure would exempt companies located in those areas from paying payroll taxes on new hires for six years. It was tailored for Twitter, which has outgrown its South of Market offices and is looking to move.

Just this week, the Internet company told city officials that it had reached a tentative lease agreement with the landlord of 1355 Market St. pending the Board of Supervisors' approval of the tax break. Several supervisors, including the legislation’s opponents, acknowledged that the measure had enough support to pass the full board. The board’s budget and finance committee will first vote on it next Wednesday.

But the intervention by Local 1021 has potentially thrown a wrench into the first piece of major legislation for new Mayor Edwin M. Lee and freshman Supervisor Jane Kim. (Board President David Chiu has also played a leading role in pushing for the measure.)

On Friday, Gabriel Haaland, the union's political director, said that if the tax break’s sponsors proceed without making amendments, the union could mount a campaign to subject the measure to a popular referendum in June, thereby stalling its passage by at least several months.

“The question is if they want to ram it down our throats," said Haaland. "If people aren’t open to compromise, it gives you no other alternative but to take it to the ballot.”

Haaland added that the SEIU is seeking to hold last-ditch talks Monday or Tuesday with Kim, whose district includes both Twitter’s current and prospective offices. If the union chooses to proceed with a referendum, it would need to gather 1,000 signatures within the first 30 days after the board passes the legislation.

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