Bringing Worker Power to the State Capitol

Legislative deadline weeks in the Capitol usually bring out all of the well-heeled suits representing a cacophony of corporate interests.  Every industry’s got a lobbyist (or several) moving a bill or killing a bill at this time of year.  The “gate” — where lobbyists can request to see a Senator or Assemblymember on a particular measure — is usually bursting with pinstriped suits. 

As in politics, Labor is generally outnumbered at the gate.  I’d say that at deadline time, it’s at least a 25-to-1 ratio of corporate-side vs. union-side representatives.  But that was not so on Tuesday, May 28th. 

Members from every California local of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) came up to the Capitol to lobby in support of AB 880 (Gomez), a bill to close the “Walmart Loophole,” and they were joined by members from Alameda and Napa Central Labor Councils, SEIU, the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

These workers know that America’s largest corporations are cutting workers’ hours to skirt their obligation under the Affordable Care Act, and by paying low wages, these workers will qualify for Medi-Cal — and taxpayers end up footing the bill. 

That's why workers came from all over the state to spread this message throughout the Capitol, going door-to-door and talking to Democrats and Republicans about the Walmart Loophole and AB 880. They also took pictures with legislators to document their support for the bill.

And as Assemblymembers began to enter the Assembly floor for session, the gate filled up … not with the suits, but with union members and allies.  To get to the Assembly floor, legislators had to pass through a gauntlet of 100 of us lining the halls. We cheered legislators who gave us the thumbs up sign. We filled those halls ourselves, outnumbering the corporate lobbyists 100 to 5! Worker power had overtaken the entrance to the state Assembly. 

UFCW Executive Director Jim Araby:

That's the beauty of having members come to the capitol to lobby, it shows labor's real power, its members. When labor moves its members and staff to come out and walk the halls of Sacramento, we remind legislators that unions are not just ATM machines and volunteer factories, but actual human beings that care about what happens under the dome.

We watched the swearing-in of our Labor warrior, Lorena Gonzalez, former  leader of the San Diego-Imperial Central Labor Council, as our state’s newest legislator representing the 80th Assembly district. Her speech embraced the millions of workers who aspire to join a union and grow the middle class.

That evening, an incisive expose about strip clubs in Sacramento getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in Enterprise Zone tax credit money broke on the local KCRA TV station. This two-part investigative series confirms what we’ve said for years – tax consultants are driving this program with free money for employers instead of actually investing in new jobs. Check out the two-part series here and here

The next day, the gate was back to its typical pinstripe suit days, with corporate lobbyists brimming the hallways.  But we didn’t let everything go back to business as usual. The California Labor Federation lobbying crew donned feather boas and hand-billed the Capitol with flyers that read, “Do you support taxpayer subsidies going to strip clubs?” We wanted to make sure every single person in the capitol knew what a waste the EZ program had become

But they only reason we had the courage to strut our stuff and twirl feather boas while handing out flyers to legislators (and leaving feathers all throughout the Capitol) is because we felt empowered after seeing out members take over the Capitol the day before.  Lobbying can be a lonely affair, counting votes from one office to the next. But when we have our members in the capitol lobbying with us, there is no greater power when it comes to winning for workers.  Let’s keep it up!