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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

09/2013 Labor's Edge Blog Articles


9/30/13

Looming Government Shutdown Will Wallop Federal Workers

Howard Egerman

“Will Work for Food.”  How many times do we see these signs at most every street corner?  For those of who are federal employees and who are so union representatives and officers, the time seems to be right for us to get out our Sharpies and make our own signs.

The last several years have seen my sisters and brothers in Social Security and other agencies continually being threatened with shutdowns and furloughs as a result of the lack of federal budgets or continuing resolutions, failure to raise the debt ceiling as well as the fiscal cliff.  Now as of October 1, 2013 we are going to be shut down again.


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9/30/13

How Sweet It Is: Union Members Box Up 10,400 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes for San Mateo Food Bank

Jackie Tortora

Three AFL-CIO community service liaisons boxed up 10,400 pounds of sweet potatoes at the Second Harvest Food Bank in San Mateo, Calif., during the United Way Bay Area's Week of Caring.

Rayna Lehman, director of community services at the San Mateo County Central Labor Council; Tom Ryan, director of community services at the San Francisco Labor Council; and Mary Harms, director of community services at the Contra Costa Central Labor Council, spent three hours filling the 15-pound boxes for distribution to several food banks in the area. 


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9/27/13

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s Secret Pension-Cutting Ballot Initiative Revealed

Gary Cohn

In a move to slash the retirement benefits of public employees in California, a group of mostly conservative policy advocates has been working behind the scenes on a possible 2014 ballot initiative. A copy of the still-secret draft initiative, which could dramatically impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians and send a signal nationwide, has been obtained by Frying Pan News. (See the document’s text following this article or click here.)

If enacted, the proposed law would allow the state and local governments to cut back retirement benefits for current employees for the years of work they perform after the changes go into effect. Previous efforts to curb retirement benefits for public employees have largely focused on newly hired workers, but the initiative would shrink pensions for workers who are currently on the job.


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9/26/13

Gov. Brown Signs Domestic Worker Bill of Rights into Law

Jackie Tortora

After seven years of organizing and two vetoes, California domestic workers finally got some good news today as Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights into law. 

The California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, AB 241, will end generations of exclusion from basic labor protections, reports the the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). The second measure of its kind in the country, "the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will protect a vital workforce that has labored in the shadows without protections for too long." 


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9/26/13

New Report Blows the Lid Off Local Lore About Warehouse Wages

Elizabeth Brennan

In a new report released today by USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equality, University of California professor and warehousing and logistics expert Juan D. de Lara reveals that the local warehousing industry is relying on low-paid, temporary workers at serious risk to the ongoing economic health of the region.

In Work: Path to the Middle Class or Road to Economic Insecurity?, De Lara takes a closer look at labor and census statistics to unpack actual warehouse worker wages. "It should be clear that most blue collar warehouse workers earn far less than the average logistics annual wage of $45,000. Any conversation about the future of the logistics industry as a key driver in the Inland Empire’s regional economy should begin with an honest assessment of blue-collar vs. white collar wages," he writes.


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9/25/13

Governor Brown Signs Historic Minimum Wage Increase into Law

Rebecca Band

Imagine having to choose between buying soap for yourself or diapers for your baby. Or being forced to walk miles to work because you chose breakfast over bus fare. Or being left with no choice but to go to the local food bank in order to feed your family. These are the harsh realities that millions of low-wage workers in California face every day.  But fortunately for them (and for our state as a whole), their future just got a lot brighter. This morning, Governor Brown made history by signing AB 10 (Alejo), a sorely-needed and long-overdue wage increase for California’s lowest-wage workers that passed through the Legislature with strong support from the California Labor movement.


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9/24/13

BART Management’s Refusal to Compromise Will Have Dire Consequences for Bay Area

Art Pulaski

Negotiating a fair contract is a complex process that involves hard work and commitment from both labor and management. When both sides bargain in good faith and share a goal of securing a deal, a deal eventually gets done. I’ve personally been involved in many tough negotiations that ended with a fair deal that both parties could live with. It takes patience and willingness from both sides to compromise.

In the BART negotiations, unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. BART management paid Thomas Hock, an out-of-state lawyer with a history of driving disputes to a strike, nearly $400,000 to lead negotiations. Hock and his company have been responsible for seven strikes, 47 unfair labor practice charges and nine discrimination lawsuits. Not exactly a history of committing to compromise in order to secure a deal.


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9/24/13

Promise Breakers: How Pew Trust Is Helping to Gut Public Employee Pensions

Gary Cohn

When Kentucky’s legislature adopted a bill intended to transform the Bluegrass State’s troubled pension system last spring, state officials were ecstatic. Signing the bill into law on April 4, Democratic governor Steve Beshear hailed it as groundbreaking legislation that would “solve the most pressing financial problem facing our state – our monstrous unfunded pension liability and the financial instability of our pension fund.”

Not everyone was convinced.

Critics, who include pension-fund experts, lawmakers and AARP Kentucky, claim the new law will hurt workers, taxpayers and retirees. What’s more, they say the law was largely crafted behind the scenes by an unusual alliance between two out-of-state organizations: the Pew Center on the States and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation


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9/23/13

California EMS Workers Deliver Petition to Protect Standards

Olivia Sandbothe

Emergency medical service providers save lives every day—and right now they’re struggling to save their own livelihoods, so they can keep doing this crucial work.

Northern California EMS professionals at American Medical Response (AMR) have worked without a contract since the beginning of this month, and so far their efforts at the bargaining table were met with resistance by their employer.  That’s why members are voting this week to give the bargaining unit strike authorization.

Monday morning, EMS professionals across Northern California marched to the AMR offices to tell management they won’t back down.  They carried with them the signatures of 1,100 of their colleagues who stand with their bargaining team.


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9/23/13

A Dancer Speaks Out for Organizing

Dana Wilson

My name is Dana Wilson and I am a professional dancer. Whether I am performing with a major recording artist, or busting a move in television and film, it is my job to entertain and evoke emotion through movement. It is also my job to make it look easy.

The reality is, dancers train tirelessly, sacrifice our bodies and dedicate our lives to our work, and sometimes all we get in return is “the experience.” Most of us are young (twenty-somethings) and female. We are all are eager to work and it has taken a long time to gain respect as a work force. 


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9/20/13

A New Bracero Program Would Hurt Farm Workers

David Bacon

Most media coverage of immigration today accepts as fact claims by growers that they can't get enough workers to harvest crops.  Agribusiness wants a new guest worker program, and complaints of a labor shortage are their justification for it.  But a little investigation of the actual unemployment rate in farm worker communities leads to a different picture.

There are always local variations in crops, and the number of workers needed to pick them.  But the labor shortage picture is largely a fiction.  I've spent over a decade traveling through California valleys and I have yet to see fruit rotting because of a lack of labor to pick it.  I have seen some pretty miserable conditions for workers, though.


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9/19/13

AB 1373: Stopping the Death Clock

Lou Paulson

Over the course of a career, firefighters are relentlessly exposed to a hellish mix of toxins. These exposures put firefighters at a substantially greater risk of getting cancer -- a reality documented in more than 80 peer-reviewed medical studies.

Personally, I don't need the studies. In my three decades in the fire service, I’ve seen many succumb to job-caused cancer, including my best friend. Law enforcement officers – regularly exposed to toxins and often without breathing apparatus – pay a similarly heavy price.

To us, this sacrifice is every bit as noble as that of one who dies in a fiery instant.


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9/19/13

Fighting for Affordable Health Care in a “House of Justice”

Erica Zeitlin

AFSCME Local 946 union members, who work at the nonprofit Bet Tzedek Legal Services agency near downtown Los Angeles, advocate in court on behalf of sweatshop workers and other exploited people on the margins. Bet Tzedek in Hebrew means a “House of Justice.”

But now they are fighting for a bit of justice for themselves. The staff are protesting their employer’s plans to price quality medical coverage completely out of their reach:  Employees paying $30 per month for dependent health care, for example, would be forced to pay $683 per month under the new plan.


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9/18/13

Home Care Workers Win Wage and Overtime Protection

Mike Hall

Nearly 2 million home care workers—the vast majority of whom are women—take care of the elderly and people with disabilities, often working 12-hour days and 60 to 70 hours a week. Now, for the first time since 1975, most of these workers will have the wage and overtime protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) under a new rule issued today by the Obama administration’s Department of Labor.   

Since they were exempted from the FLSA nearly four decades ago, home care workers seldom have been paid overtime and their net income is often less than the minimum wage, considering time spent in travel between the homes where they work in a single day and its cost. Unlike workers covered by federal labor laws, they have not been paid for all the hours they are on the clock.


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