Caitlin Vega is legislative advocate at the California Labor Federation. Email her at cvega@calaborfed.org.

 

 

 

 


Why Picket Lines Matter

Caitlin Vega

I spent so much time on picket lines as a kid that when I thought my dad’s rules were too strict, I would run to build a sign on a stick and try to talk the neighbor kids into marching around the house with me. I learned early on the power of a picket to protest unfair treatment.

That right is more important today than ever. As our economy has shifted toward a more contingent workforce, companies are increasingly hiring workers as part-time or temporary, or labeling them as independent contractors.  This leaves workers more vulnerable to abuse while also shielding companies from accountability. When warehouse workers unpacking Wal-Mart goods in a Wal-Mart-owned warehouse were cheated out of their wages, the retail giant responded that those workers were hired through a temporary agency and are not the company’s responsibility.

Some Wins and Some Losses for Workers in 2012

Caitlin Vega

This legislative session brought some exciting victories as well as some deep disappointments. Labor accomplished big things this year that benefit all Californians but when it came to advancing worker protections, many of those bills were vetoed.

Starting with successes, early in the year Labor joined forces with Attorney General Kamala Harris to demand some accountability from the banks. We passed the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights, making California the first state in the nation to ban the practice of dual tracking, where a family gets foreclosed on while in loan modification.

 

Unions, Temp Agencies and the Future of Work

Caitlin Vega

All too often, when people talk about labor unions, they focus on the past. Unions served a purpose, won some important rights, and ceased being relevant. That narrative has been repeated so often, far too many people have come to see it as true.

It is hard to believe that at a time when the middle class has never been so battered, and the gap between the rich and poor has never been so great, that anyone could argue unions are obsolete. In fact, the decline in union density directly parallels the decline in the middle class and the rise of income inequality. As fewer workers had unions, fewer workers could provide a decent standard of living for their families. It seems clear that rebuilding the middle class requires a strong union movement to prevent what is already being called “the low wage recovery.”

A Victory for Homeowners

The other night, my son woke up with a bad dream. “I dreamed we had to move out of our house,” he told me in a worried voice. As I hushed him back to sleep, I thought about all the children for whom that is not just a bad dream.

Over the past 6 years, nearly two million Californians have lost their homes to foreclosure. That’s an awful lot of parents who have had to explain to their children that they could not stay in their homes. They’ve had to take their kids out of the schools and neighborhoods where they were raised and have friends and start over somewhere new and unfamiliar.

But today is a new day. This week, the California Legislature passed the Homeowners Bill of Rights. Sponsored and championed by our state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris, this bill addresses the very practices that did so much damage to our families, our state and our economy.

This May Day, Think About the Future, Not the Past

May 1st is May Day, a day of celebration for workers around the world. This dates back to a resolution adopted by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (later the American Federation of Labor) that stated “eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour from and after May 1st, 1886.”

But the struggle for the 8-hour day was about more than just hours of work. In demanding an 8-hour day, workers were saying something much more fundamental: that working people should not have to spend every waking moment on the job. We deserve time to rest, to spend with family, to go to church or to union meetings, to get involved in our communities. It was a simple and powerful demand: “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.”

The Truth Behind the Chamber’s So-Called ‘Job Killer’ List

For years, the California Chamber of Commerce has put out a list of so-called “job killers.” It’s never been clear to us what qualifies a bill as a job-killer. Last year, our sponsored bill to keep your boss from using your personal credit report to deny you a promotion was on that so-called “job killer” list.  Seriously, protecting your privacy kills jobs? Businesses are fleeing the state because…they can’t review their employees’ credit reports? That seems a bit far-fetched…

They also named AB 350 (Solorio) a “job killer.”  That bill simply extended existing worker retention provisions to building services workers. That means that when a contract for building services changes hands, the workers who have been doing the job have 60 days to persuade the new contractor that they should be retained. How does keeping people in their jobs kill jobs? It simply makes no sense.

What Small Businesses Need

, 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.

To Rebuild a Fair Economy, We Must Tackle the 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.

Labor and Business Standing Together to Make Progress for California

It is not every day that labor and business come together to co-sponsor legislation. But the truth is, we have a lot of shared interests. We all care about creating and protecting jobs, ensuring a skilled workforce and revitalizing our battered economy. This year, the California Labor Federation sponsored two bills with the business community to further these shared goals.

These partnerships show that while the Chamber of Commerce may call any bill that helps workers a “job killer,” the employer community is not monolithic. Small businesses care about our local communities and are often ignored by their own trade associations. Manufacturers create the jobs that can rebuild our economy, and we plan to work closely with them to make that a reality.

Cuts to Higher Education Shortchange California’s Future


When I went to Cal State Hayward in the late 90's, I couldn't understand why anyone went anywhere else. Small classes, great teachers, and a student body who were passionate and excited to be there. We all worked, many had kids, most were the first in the family to go to college. We were tired, bedraggled, and usually late to class but we were in love with this new life of learning.

I worked as a tutor in the afternoons and as a waitress on the weekends. I paid each quarter as it came, maybe $400 dollars tuition and $200 more on books? I was able to pay my way through college, five years and a double-major, on two part-time jobs and a Cal-Grant. And after graduation I had the freedom to do exactly the work I wanted without the crushing burden of massive student loans.

No Unions, No Middle Class

with “For Sale” signs up, thousands of workers standing in line to apply for a handful of jobs at McDonalds, those who lost jobs realizing there are none to be found. I see it in my family, among my friends, throughout my neighborhood. The working people of California who once enjoyed a degree of economic security have seen it washed away in a tidal wave of hard times.

This is not just anecdotal. The recent census numbers show the highest level of inequality on record.  That means not only are working families suffering, but they are suffering alone. The wealthy, the banks, and the CEOs are all making record profits, while jobs disappear and aid to the poorest elderly and disabled is slashed. 

Is this the world we want to live in?

If you are saying, “There’s gotta be a better way,” you are right. There is one. It’s called the Labor Movement. A new study by the Center for American Progress confirms the cornerstone of our philosophy: unions are essential to creating a fair economy and rebuilding the middle class.

Remembering Cesar Chavez

The Napa I grew up in is probably not the place you'd come to spend a long weekend winetasting. Real Napa, as we call it, is not glamorous or exclusive. In the old days, my dad says, “it used to be a place where poor kids could grow up in the country.”  Today, even with the fancy restaurants and expensive tourist shops, Napa is still an agricultural town at heart, which means it is a farmworker community.

My mother-in-law, Emma, started working as a farmworker at the age of 19. The daughter of a bracero, she joined her father in Napa to work beside him in the fields. A few years in, everything changed. A young organizer named Cesar Chavez came to town. At first workers were scared but they were soon inspired to make a better life by joining the farmworkers union.  As longtime worker advocate Aurelio Hurtado recalls, “He had a simple message: we're people and are not afraid of anything when it comes to our future. We're here to work, not to beg.” 

California GOP Legislative Wish List Targets Workers’ Rights and Jobs

GOP legislators won't support new revenue, they won't vote for the cuts they claim they want, and they won't close corporate tax breaks. Months of budget stalemate prompted Governor Brown to ask, “If they're not going to do anything, why even take a paycheck?”

Turns out, Republicans have had a few other things on their to-do list this month. The downside is that just about everything they want to do just makes life harder for working people in California. While they don't seem to care about a balanced budget, here are a few things that Republicans would like to do for the people of California…

Municipal Bankruptcy Threatens Workers, Communities and the Economy


When I was growing up, my dad was a union laborer, helping build tunnels and bridges throughout the Bay. He could be old-school and had a lot of rules I didn't like (no slurping my straw at a restaurant, no backtalk, no whining when he brushed my hair too hard) so I got more than my share of spankings.

But there were a few of my dad's rules that I took to heart and one of the most important ones was that your word is all you got. He told me that you live by your commitments or you get no respect. We all learn that lesson at some point, right?

But now it sounds like those who have spent decades preaching personal responsibility have changed their minds about what that means. Conservative superstar Newt Gingrich recently proposed that states be allowed to declare bankruptcy for one specific purpose: to break commitments made to workers and retirees.

California Love


We Californians are a pretty proud bunch. We like living in a state that has been in the forefront of pushing for workers’ rights, civil rights, and environmental protection. We are happy to lead the way and watch the rest of the nation follow.

But every year, we hear the same smack talking. You know the line: “California has a terrible business climate.” We hear it over and over from the employer associations and Republican politicians. They say businesses are leaving because we have too much regulation, high business taxes, and too many worker protections.

Wow, they make it sound so bad it's almost like they are trying to convince companies to leave! And I’m not sure who he considers “productive people,” but workers across the country have been setting records for productivity. And I haven’t heard about all these “productive people” jumping on buses out of state. As for businesses fleeing, a recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) study already debunked that myth.

The True Legacy of Ronald Reagan

. I really didn’t want to write about Reagan. I know at this point we are all supposed to say that whether or not we agreed with him, we admired his optimism, his skillful communicating style, and his bold vision. Once considered deeply divisive, Reagan is now showered with bipartisan praise every year on his birthday and who am I to rain on that parade? 

Sorry, but I couldn’t help myself. I was four years old when Reagan was elected. At the age of 10, when my parents got divorced, I had no doubt that Reagan was to blame. I know, it sounds silly. But I grew up in a union family and my parents believed in The Labor Movement (yes, with caps) like it was a religion. The reality is that Reagan’s presidency was devastating for union workers.

Safety Now at Napa State Hospital


“If I get murdered tomorrow doing my job, how much will you give my family and what will you say to my children?” Napa State Hospital social worker Corinne Weaver's haunting question brought the overflow crowd to their feet. Hundreds of Napa State workers filled the room, testifying to the level of danger and violence they must confront everyday.

Last week's forum on how to improve safety for patients and workers at the Napa State Hospital was convened by newly elected Assembly Member Michael Allen and co-hosted with Senator Noreen Evans. Workers finally had an opportunity to speak publicly about the working conditions that have been overlooked for years.

Rep. Issa Seeks to Eliminate Vital Home Loan Modification Program

to tell him which regulations to eliminate. Now, it seems that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is asking the big banks what to do about home foreclosures.

According to the LA Times, Rep. Darrell Issa plans to scrap President Obama's home loan modification program. The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) offers incentives to home loan servicers who successfully got families into modified loans, preventing unnecessary foreclosures. The program was put in place in the face of widespread evidence that loan modifications were not happening. Between April 2009 and October 2010, 1.4 million Americans were able to keep their homes due to HAMP loan modifications.

Anti-Union Measures Harm ALL Workers

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Proposals include limiting collective bargaining, ending prevailing wage on construction projects, eliminating the right to strike, and even banning the union shop. Some Republican House leaders are even pushing to take the word “labor” out of the “Education and Labor Committee” and change the title to “Education and Workforce Committee.” Here we are, in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, and politicians are attacking the only voice for working people in this country.

Christie Out in the Cold


You gotta love the irony of this one. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been on a crusade against public employees since the day he came to office. Faced with a serious state deficit, he places the blame squarely on the working people of his state. In spite of the national recession and the lingering foreclosure crisis, Christie has focused solely on state workers, city employees, and public school teachers, accusing them of creating the budget problem.

Now, Christie is taking heat because while his constituents have been hit by massive snowstorms, he and his Lieutenant Governor are both vacationing out of state. Even when it became clear that the storms had created chaos throughout the state, Governor Christie chose not to return from Disneyworld.

Goodbye—And Good Riddance—to Governor Schwarzenegger

As this year draws to a close, so too does Arnold Schwarzenegger's term as California governor. Skimming the many articles that reflected on his tenure as Governor, one word was used over and over: “moderate.”

So what does it mean to be a “moderate?” Sure, Schwarzenegger did not embrace the socially conservative agenda pushed by much of the Republican Party, but he has shown a deep disregard for the working people who built this state and who make it run. Every time he had to choose a side, he stood with big business, big banks, and big campaign contributors.

Open On Christmas


As I sit on the floor wrapping presents with a newborn on my lap and an excited 4-year-old bouncing around me, I see the commercials on tv promise “We are open on Christmas!” Wal-Mart reassures shoppers they will be open all day. Starbucks posts a sign: “Open on Christmas, stop by and tell us how you are celebrating.”

Well this is all very convenient… Unless of course you are a worker at one of these places. For these workers, Christmas Day won't be spent baking cookies, watching their kids open presents, or catching up with relatives. Instead, they will be ringing up frantic shoppers or making frappacinos while customers describe their own holiday plans.

Is California Really “Bleeding Jobs” To Other States?


Meg Whitman keeps reciting the same misinformation about job loss resulting from California’s bad business climate, claiming that businesses are leaving California because of “over-regulation”. But the truth is, we have lost fewer jobs than neighboring states that have fewer worker protections and lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

As KQED’s John Myers points out, “The 'bleeding of jobs' — the notion that a large number of jobs are businesses are fleeing California — is a familiar talking point in state politics these days, especially among Republicans. But in the only broad, longitudinal nonpartisan study out there, the numbers don't match the rhetoric.”

Impact of Foreclosures Goes Far Beyond Economic Damage

conducted by the Alameda County Public Health Department and the housing rights group Causa Justa found that those who have had homes foreclosed on are twice as likely to report that their mental and physical health has declined. Many cite increased crime in their communities as a result of mass foreclsoures, as well as the strain caused by dislocating their children from friends and schools due to a forced move.

This latest report only underscores the need to protect families from the harm caused by foreclosures. Unfortunately, the lending industry that aggressively marketed sub-prime loans is now resisting efforts to protect borrowers from unnecessary foreclosures.

Republican “Job Creation” Plan Looks More Like a Big Business Wish List


With our unemployment rate at the highest rate since the Great Depression, it’s no wonder that politicians are talking about jobs 24/7. But who is serious about putting Californians back to work, and who is just paying lip service? The Governor and legislative Republicans say jobs are the top priority, but a quick look at their policy proposals reveals just the opposite.