In this economy, young people need the labor movement more than ever. That’s why I am excited to join young workers from throughout California and across the country to attend the Next Up Young Workers Summit in Minneapolis this weekend. We’ll hear diverse voices from inside and outside the labor movement including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and actors Lucas Neff from Fox’s “Raising Hope” and RJ Mitte from “Breaking Bad”. The summit will focus on the current economic crisis and pathways to building a just economy as well as the ongoing attacks on workers’ rights from state legislatures.
Working people are applauding the Los Angeles County Metro Board of Directors vote last week in favor of a sweeping, agency-wide program that will create 260,000 construction jobs. Officials said the program will dramatically increase the number of workers hired from communities near upcoming transit projects and special attention will be given to applicants who live in areas of high unemployment.
The Construction Careers Policy covers Metro transit construction projects for the next 30 years, including projects funded under Measure R, the half-cent sales tax recently approved in 2008 by voters to fund transportation upgrades. Under the Construction Careers Policy, workers who live in high unemployment areas will gain increased access to good jobs through increased access to construction apprenticeship programs and jobs. The policy is the first of its kind for a major transit agency in the United States.
on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage for 2010. Data from the report represents that of the first full year into our economic recovery (which official started in June 2009). It is no surprise, given the focus of this report and the weak recovery, that it is filled with bad news: poverty is up, health insurance coverage and incomes are down.
For this post I’ll focus on median household income from the report for the United States and California. From 2009 to 2010 median income in the U.S. fell by $1,154 (or 2.3%) and in California the decline was a steeper $2,602 (or 4.6%). The change in income since 2007—the peak of the last economic expansion—totals -$3,378 (-6.4%) for the U.S. and -$5,362 (-9.0%) for California.
When I was in high school and college, I worked in restaurants. I worked for minimum wage and I worked hard—cleaning, cooking, even counting money and making bank deposits. I remember my pay going from $3.35 an hour to $3.45 an hour when I made “head cashier”—a job that carried a lot more responsibility than a 10-cent raise would imply.
My second year at UCLA, I got my first union job at a deli/restaurant in West Hollywood. There were some differences that I noticed immediately: grown-ups worked here, I had enough money to buy my family Christmas presents that year and, after a probationary period, I was eligible for health benefits. But most striking of all was the absence of fear. I wasn’t used to working in kitchens where the line cook could talk to the boss when he didn’t agree with a decision. He didn’t always win, but at least he wasn’t afraid to speak up. This made a big impression on me and made me a life-long supporter of unions.
This year, there were about twenty-five bills introduced in the California legislature taking aim at the regulatory process. Listening to those pushing bills that would eviscerate core worker and environmental protections, regulations are to blame for our battered economy. They say regulations have created a bad business climate and that's why small businesses can't keep their doors open.
Hmmm. Sure makes for nice soundbites. But is it true? Not so much.
In actuality, deregulation is a far greater threat to our economy. Those pushing so-called “regulatory reform” seem to conveniently forget that it was deregulation of Wall Street and Big Banks that caused our economic collapse. And there are important worker safety regulations, like heat stress protections, that took decades to get enacted. Other regulations, like nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, protect public health and have literally saved lives.
We all know that in this economy, we could easily face cutbacks and we'd be in the unemployment line with millions of other laid off workers. So imagine what times are like in California's underground economy. That's what we call the sectors that operate under the radar of enforcement agencies. Where employers pay in cash, don't carry workers' compensation, and treat workers like they are disposable.
So it’s no wonder that wage theft is rampant. Wage theft includes a range of labor law violations, including failure to pay minimum wage, overtime and meal periods, tip-stealing, off-the-clock work and more. A UCLA study released in 2010 found that wage theft costs Los Angeles County workers $26 million a week. According to the study, nearly 30 percent of low-wage workers were not paid the minimum wage and 75 percent of those entitled to overtime did not receive it.
Over 2.1 million workers are currently unemployed in California. That’s not counting the underemployed, the part-timers who would like to be working full-time, the temporary workers, and those who are so discouraged that they’ve given up on work. One-third of the unemployed have been jobless for over a year; 25% have been out of work for more than two years.
This Great Recession is leaving millions of workers behind. Workers in especially hard-hit sectors like construction are facing unemployment rates as high as 40-50%. Workers have lost their jobs, their homes, their marriages and their community roots in the wake of this recession. Women and men who spent decades in the construction industry may never return to the same work. We’ve got to re-invest in these workers — to train and arm them with new skills so they can embark upon new career paths.
Thursday will be monumental. That’s when nearly 23,000 registered nurses at 34 Northern and Central California hospitals will hold a one-day strike.
The massive walk-out is sending a message to two of California’s largest and most profitable hospital chains, Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente, as well as Children’s Hospital in Oakland.
Nurses, who are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, are fighting against attacks on their right to speak out for patient care, as well as cuts in healthcare, and retiree coverage for registered nurses and other frontline healthcare workers.
Lost in the debate around California’s regulatory environment is a simple fact: regulations didn’t crash the economy. Wall Street banks crashed the economy.
Not only did greedy Wall Street bankers get us into this mess, they’re certainly not doing anything to help the middle class dig out. They’re even devising ways to exploit the economic crisis and the mass unemployment it’s caused to pad their pockets. That’s why the California Labor Federation partnered with consumer advocates and others on two key bills to protect workers from the worst Wall Street abuses.
The public library is an American institution – but right now, it’s under threat of being transformed from a public service to a for-profit venture. AB 438 is a result of a year-long effort by community residents, local organizations, librarians and labor organizations to save public libraries from widespread privatization efforts. Recently, the city of Santa Clarita privatized their library services and instead of saving money (as the private stated) it will cost the local taxpayers $12 million, and AB 438 addresses these types of hidden costs.
Please take a moment and send an email and ask Governor Brown to sign AB 438.