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.
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.
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.
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.
I started out as an immigrant rights advocate on the heels of the passage of Proposition 187 and during the Pete Wilson administration. Those were difficult times for the immigrant rights movement. Voters had passed the most draconian anti-immigrant initiative to date, racist anti-immigrant commercials filled our airwaves, and the fear mongering fomented hate toward immigrants. And the Legislature had passed a new law requiring social security numbers to get a driver’s license, effectively barring undocumented immigrants from eligibility.
Over the past 20 years, multiple attempts to eliminate the immigration restrictions for a driver’s license have failed. I worked on AB 1463 in 1999 from the immigrant rights side, passed by the Legislature, vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis. I worked on SB 60 in 2003 from the Labor side, signed into law by Gov. Davis and then repealed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004.
Earlier this summer the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) decided, in a shocking move, to terminate accreditation for City College of San Francisco, effective July 2014.
CCSF is the main pathway for the Bay Area working class to public higher education. This beloved institution supplies more trained workers to local businesses than any other source, and has enabled hundreds of thousands of students to achieve their educational and career goals over the years.
Some 725 registered nurses at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., won representation from California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) last week after beating back what they say was a “furious anti-union campaign by hospital management and its high paid anti-union consultants.”
Caroline Gallego, a 24-year labor and delivery RN, said after the election victory, “United with my co-workers we have never felt so empowered. We need improvements in staffing…and look forward to gaining a real voice in patient care.”
California made history last night. With the support of California’s unions, the Legislature voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10, the highest minimum wage in the country. The wage will be implemented in two steps: an increase to $9 per hour in July of next year, followed by another one-dollar increase to $10 in January of 2016. Gov. Brown has agreed to sign the bill, AB 10, authored by Assemblymember Luis Alejo.
The wage increase will affect more than 2.3 million California workers, according the Economic Policy Institute. It means that single moms will have a little extra to support their families. It means seniors who’ve been forced to re-enter the workforce will have a little more to help pay for prescription drugs. And it means that all low-wage workers have received validation that their work is worthy of dignity and respect.
When immigrant workers speak up to protect their rights and the rights of their co-workers, all too often employers respond by retaliating against – even firing – those workers. Under several new laws, immigrant workers would have important protections in place to stop this exploitation. This week, the California State legislature has passed new protections designed to stop unscrupulous employers from retaliating against immigrant workers who stand up for their rights. The bills await signature by Governor Jerry Brown.
In 2004, after a long string of Republican governors and the shockingly narrow defeat of Prop. 72—which would have ushered in the most progressive health care reform ever implemented in the United States—California labor leaders got mad. And then they got organized.
“We said, we’re never going to lose that bad again—what do we have to do to change?” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, who moderated Wednesday’s AFL-CIO 2013 Convention panel discussion “Winning and Building Over Time: Winning in California and You Can, Too.