Labor Day is both a celebration of American workers and an important reminder of the role unions play in giving working people power to address not only their issues at the workplace, but larger societal ills that have a cascading effect on everyone.
Art Pulaski is the Executive Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation. Since his election in 1996, Pulaski has reinvigorated grassroots activism in unions and championed support for new organizing. Under his leadership, the Federation has helped to elect worker-friendly candidates in the State Legislature and won the passage of landmark legislation.
Union volunteers are finishing a frenzied push in the final two days of this election to elect worker-friendly candidates and win ballot races that will ensure California builds on its status as the nation’s leader in advancing the rights of working people. In addition, thousands of California Labor volunteers hit the doors and phones this election season in neighboring Nevada to boost Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
Labor Day was founded by unions as a way to celebrate the power workers collectively hold when we stand together to demand justice and fairness in the workplace. Since its inception in the late 19th century, Labor Day has served as a powerful reminder that backbone of America’s economic prosperity is, and will always be, working people.
In 1936, during the throes of the Great Depression, FDR addressed a deeply divided and economically insecure nation on the eve of Labor Day.
“There are those who fail to read both the signs of the times and American history. They would try to refuse the worker any effective power to bargain collectively, to earn a decent livelihood and to acquire security. It is those short-sighted ones, not labor, who threaten this country with that class dissension which in other countries has led to dictatorship and the establishment of fear and hatred as the dominant emotions in human life.”
and Sarah Rose
They’re calling it “NAFTA on steroids.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be the largest international trade deal in history – with major economic and environmental consequences here in California – but the details have been veiled in total secrecy.
, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer
It’s a big secret. That’s just how the biggest corporations like it. And they sure don’t want any light shined on their secret deals.
That’s why their lobbyists – and the politicians they fund – are pushing “fast track” legislation to hide the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from the light of day. Remember NAFTA? That was also negotiated in secret. The TPP free-trade deal is NAFTA on steroids. It’s the biggest one yet covering the countries on all sides if the Pacific Ocean. It is very bad news for our jobs.
For many, the legacy of Labor Day has been forgotten. We forget about the struggle that so many fought and even died for to achieve decent working conditions. We take for granted that children no longer have to slave away in American factories for 17 hours a day, six days a week. We undervalue what it took to get the weekend. After all, that’s what makes Labor Day such a treat in the first place–we get a three-day weekend instead of the boring old two. And for those of us still lucky enough, the 40 hour work week is just the standard.
Whether BART closes down this week will come down to one issue and one issue only: whether the BART Board of Directors shows leadership or continues to act to hold Bay Area transit riders hostage by using the same playbook a small minority of elected officials in Washington, DC have used to close down our federal government.
No one in the Bay Area—whether they ride BART or not—wants to see a BART strike. This is especially true of BART workers, who live in one of the most expensive regions in the world and do not receive a paycheck while they are on strike.
To demonstrate their commitment to reaching a deal before cooling-off period expires tonight, BART workers have put a proposal on the table that is fair and affordable and incentivizes BART workers to keep the system one of the nation's best.
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.
Fifty years ago this week, union workers joined with civil rights leaders and progressive activists to march on Washington for good jobs and equal rights for all. Dr. Martin Luther King’s call for America to “rise up” and demand equality — both economic and racial — was a seminal moment in our nation’s history. This Labor Day, much has changed since 1963. But sadly, too much remains the same.
The American Dream is but a faint hope for many workers today. The path to the middle class is an increasingly uphill climb that’s littered with obstacles like low pay, declining retirement security and costly health care. For immigrant workers, the news is even bleaker. More than 2.6 million hard-working immigrants in California live in the shadows, never able to realize America’s promise.
It’s no secret that corporate CEOs game the system to their favor. There’s a maze of loopholes and tax dodges for big corporations like Walmart that the rest of us couldn’t dream of getting. These big corporations are riding the corporate gravy train. And taxpayers like us are paying the fare.
Imagine a program that encourages unscrupulous companies to eliminate good union jobs, pack up and move to another part of the state, and get a fat tax bonus for hiring workers at low wages.
California’s poster child for the corporate gravy train is the “Enterprise Zone” (EZ) tax credit program. The program is supposed to encourage job creation in disadvantaged areas. But the only thing it actually encourages is low-paid jobs with our tax dollar support.
After four years in President Obama’s Cabinet, Hilda Solis recently announced she’s stepping down from her position as Secretary of Labor. As those of us in California know, Hilda is a lifelong champion for workers. As Secretary of Labor, she used her position to advance workers’ rights in many ways, never forgetting her humble roots as the daughter of a union family in Southern California.
Labor Day is a celebration of working people, brought to you by American unions. It’s a day we can appreciate each other, and all the gains we’ve made for working people. But everything we’ve won by standing together, Prop 32 threatens to take away.
LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik calls Prop 32 “the fraud to end all frauds.” The billionaire backers of this fraud are trying to eliminate the labor movement so they can strip away everything we’ve fought generations for: overtime pay, workplace safety, quality public education, prevailing wage, retirement security and middle class jobs.
Not only are the big banks responsible for collapsing the housing market, their irresponsible actions led to millions of workers losing their jobs through no fault of their own. And just a few months ago, the banks thought they had a deal that would give them blanket immunity for all their wrongdoing in exchange for just pennies on the dollar for what they owe California families. That would have been a slap in the face to every California family who’s suffered because of the banks’ illegal actions.
Fortunately, our Attorney General, Kamala Harris, resisted that settlement and fought for a better deal for Californians. With the announcement today of the national Attorneys General mortgage settlement, we finally see a critical, real first step in holding the banks accountable for cratering our state’s economy.
California is home to nine of the ten cities that were hardest hit by the foreclosure freefall. The two million working families we represent have been at the epicenter of this crisis. Millions have been devastated by the loss of their homes. Many more have watched their home values plummet and now nearly one in three California borrowers are underwater, owing more to the banks than their homes are worth. California has the second highest foreclosure rate in the country, surpassed only by Nevada.
Gov. Jerry Brown put forth a vision for California today that working people can embrace. With today’s State of the State speech, it’s clear that the destructive slash-and-burn politics of the previous administration have been replaced with a forward-thinking vision to invest in our future. While our state’s 21st century challenges are many, the California Labor movement is confident we have a leader at the helm to guide us beyond those challenges.
Gov. Brown understands all too well that we can’t create jobs with stale ideas and cuts to investments that support healthy private sector growth. The Governor’s plan to upgrade our failing infrastructure isn’t optional if we hope to rise above the recession. It’s necessary to rebuilding our economy and putting Californians back to work. We simply can’t sustain a vibrant economy if we don’t invest in the infrastructure that supports it.
There’s a threat to America’s economic future that’s so overlooked it’s gone almost unnoticed amid the endless debate over the debt ceiling and federal spending: massive income inequality.
This Labor Day, the gap that separates the very wealthy from the rest of us is as wide as it was in the Great Depression. Since the economic collapse of 2008, workers have suffered through joblessness, home foreclosures, reduced wages and benefits and a sustained assault on our right to collectively bargain. Did you notice that corporate profits are soaring and Wall Street bankers are receiving fatter bonuses than ever? And we wonder why our middle class is disappearing before our eyes.
“Collective bargaining … has played a major role in America's economic miracle. Unions represent some of the freest institutions in this land. There are few finer examples of participatory democracy to be found anywhere.”
To be sure, Reagan's relationship with unions was complicated, and, at times, quite contentious. But there's no question that he understood the value — even necessity — of collective bargaining. He remains the only president in history to have also served as the head of a union, the Screen Actors Guild.
I recall vividly my first union job. At the age of 16, I joined the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union as a supermarket clerk. I remember the good wages in my first paycheck and the sense of pride I felt when I received my first union card.
Back then, about a quarter of all private sector workers were union members. Collective bargaining allowed us a path to a better life. The standard of living rose, not just for those of us in a union, but even for those who weren’t. But today, too few workers have the right to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Years of assaults by corporations on the freedom to join unions have taken a terrible toll.
As the protests rage on over Gov. Scott Walker’s politically motivated attempt to strip Wisconsin’s public workers of collective bargaining, there’s too little discussion in the media about the decline in bargaining rights for private sector workers. Instead, opportunistic politicians like Walker have used the current economic crisis to help further their agenda to divide the middle class.
When it comes to dealing with our state budget crisis, California voters are clear on one thing: Let’s eliminate wasteful spending. So you’d think the elimination of a failed program and billion-dollar boondoggle would be a no-brainer. Think again.
An annual billion-dollar giveaway to big, profitable corporations is bad enough. But when the program also fails in its goal of creating jobs, it’s time to say goodbye.
Yet, as soon as Gov. Jerry Brown announced his proposal to end the Enterprise Zone tax credit program, corporate lobbyists and consultants started clamoring to save their golden goose. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with tax credits for businesses to help create jobs. With unemployment hovering at 12.5%, we need all the help we can get. But, in practice, the Enterprise Zone program has failed miserably.
As I listened to Jerry Brown’s inauguration speech on Jan. 3, something he said struck a chord. “A Philosophy of Loyalty,” he called it. “Loyalty to the community that is larger than our individual needs.”
This is a concept that unionists share. It’s one of the fundamentals of our movement. But it’s a value under attack. Tune in to talk radio and you’ll hear a bombastic host inciting his audience against government. In the corporate world, the enduring loyalty is not to community, but to executive compensation.
Ideologues like Grover Norquist have also joined in the debate on California’s future, not by calling for unity, but by threatening legislators who would even consider allowing voters a say on whether revenue is part of the fix for our budget crisis.
This Labor Day, California is at a crossroads. We can either continue the economic race to the bottom – exacerbated by corporate policies and Gov. Schwarzenegger’s slash-and-burn budgets – or we can chart a new course to rebuild California from the bottom up. The heart of California’s economy, our workers, are struggling with near record unemployment, stagnating wages and devastating budget cuts that are eroding the California Dream.
This November, Californians have a critical choice to make about which direction our state should take to deal with the enormous challenges we face. This election is simply a battle for the soul of California.
In the race for Governor, the choices couldn’t be starker.