More than 500 union members, leaders, and activists met in Sacramento this week to plan and execute a shared agenda to raise standards for all working people in California. The conference theme: Union Strong. In California, Union Strong means a path to the middle class and the American Dream for all.
Sponsored by the California Labor Federation and the California State Building and Construction Trades Council, this annual conference featured speeches and legislative briefings by elected officials and leaders on key issues facing working people on Monday and a Union Strong Lobby Day on Tuesday to champion new laws that will improve the lives of all workers across our state.
After being led in the Pledge of Allegiance by American hero and veteran Nick Weathers with Helmets to Hardhats, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski opened the conference with a call to action to raise the wage and provide economic security to millions of Californians:
Economic insecurity is giving rise to disturbing trends. Subcontracting. Contingent work. The gig economy. The underground workforce. Corporate CEOs are preying on the despair like a wolf on an injured fawn.
But we’re in a unique position in California to reverse these trends. To provide security to those who are losing hope.
It starts with raising wages. The Fight for 15 is scoring tremendous victories across California and the country. City by city, this movement of workers backed by unions is raising wages. LA. San Francisco. San Jose. Oakland. And many others.
We’re lifting the economy from the bottom up. Now it’s time to lift all families across the state.
This year WE ARE GOING TO RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE to $15 an hour for EVERY SINGLE WORKER in the state!!
Tina Sandoval, who works at a McDonalds in Richmond and has been a leader in the Fight for $15 movement for years, took the stage soon after to share her story:
I am a single mother of two. I have a seventeen year old daughter, Juliana, and a seven year old son, Adrian. I am a McDonald’s worker. I am a proud member of the Fight for $15. Since 2013, I have gone on more strikes than I count.
I get paid a little more than the state minimum wage. I work five nights a week, from 10-6 in the morning. I share a room with my teenage daughter. My rent, which is $500 a month, is split between my first and last check. Sometimes I walk a half an hour to work, to save the $5 I would spend on the bus, for my daughter’s lunch.
Other cities like LA, Oakland, and San Francisco have raised their minimum wage. I work right next door in Richmond, and these raises didn’t benefit me. That’s why I still fight for 15, for workers all over the state of California. I will continue to fight for 15 and union rights for workers all over the country.
During the lunch on Monday David Rosenfeld was honored for his work to protect the rights of working people across California. Rosenfeld, a labor attorney who has devoted his career to fighting alongside workers to protect their right to collectively bargain, took to the stage and – in true David Rosenfeld form – exclaimed “Organize!” before giving his speech.
In his keynote speech at lunch, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom called out divisive rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump and exclaimed:
“What makes California great today is that we don’t just tolerate our diversity, we celebrate it!”
Newsom went on to say to a thunderous applause that unions “are the antidote to injustice and income inequality. You are the answer.”
Governor Jerry Brown headlined the dinner program and also denounced Trump’s dangerous ideology (you can view his full speech below!):
“If Trump were ever elected, we’d have to build a wall around California to defend ourselves from the rest of this country. By the way that is a joke. We don’t like walls, we like bridges.”
We went on to echo the theme of the conference, Union Strong: “You become much stronger when you stand together. That’s what unions are all about” and proudly declared that he has worked with unions to make California the “most worker friendly state in the nation”
On top the incredible speakers program throughout the day, conference attendees also attended briefings on a variety of worker-related issues ranging from climate change and the labor movement to strategies for health care reform and cost containment.
During the day attendees also heard from legislative leaders including Senate President Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate Labor Committee Chair Tony Mendoza, and Assembly Labor Chair Roger Hernández. All highlighted legislation that will help to improve the lives of and protect workers like Tina Sandoval.
The conference also celebrated California Labor’s “100 percenters” – legislators who have a 100% track record of voting with working families. You can see a list of legislators who stood with working families 100% in 2015 and download our scorecard here. You can also visit our new interactive online tool (using the same data) www.CALaborScorecard.org.
On Tuesday, workers and labor leaders participated in a Union Strong Legislative Lobby Day, where they had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with the legislators and their staff on Labor’s 2016 Legislative agenda, which includes critical issues like ensuring workers have reliable scheduling from their employers so they can take care of their children. During visits, folks asked their elected legislators to pledge to support raising the wage for millions of Californians. Check out this tweet of Roger Hernandez signing the pledge!
For more highlights from the conference, visit our Twitter page and search our conference hashtag: #CAUnionStrong