California Governor Jerry Brown was in good spirits when he took the stage at the Labor Federation-State Building and Construction Trades Council Joint Legislative Conference on St. Patrick’s Day, and why shouldn’t he be? Acknowledging that there’s still a lot to do, Governor Brown, the keynote speaker for the annual conference’s dinner, embraced the opportunity to celebrate all that’s been accomplished for working families in California since he took office four years ago. The list is a long one. Since 2011, the Governor has signed into law an astounding 38 pro-worker bills while turning around California’s economy.
“Just a few years ago people looked at California and said it was a failed state—we’re screwed up—they were laughing at us. Not anymore. We’re putting people to work. We’ve created over a million jobs in just 4 years.”
Talking about the future of job creation and the hurdles with taking on the climate, energy and transportation problems facing the state and the nation, Governor Brown offered serious solutions with some self-effacing humor:
“Look, we’ve got a lot of old people out there who shouldn’t be driving. They should be sitting in a nice train car, working on their iPads and enjoying a martini. They can do that with high speed rail.
We do have a lot of challenges facing America, and California is at the forefront of a lot of these issues. We have huge environmental issues, and if the extreme weather and droughts are going to get worse, we have to invest in how we get and use our energy and that means transportation, and high speed rail and tens of thousands– or even millions– of jobs.”
In 2013 alone, California saw the passage of 16 worker friendly bills including increasing the minimum wage to $10 per hour, the highest rate in the nation. Additionally, California reformed the failed Enterprise Zone corporate tax break, which rewarded companies for laying off workers and relocating to areas with lower worker wages. Another piece of landmark legislation was the passage of SB 7 which stopped rewarding cities that ban fair, prevailing wages and Project Labor Agreements from receiving state construction dollars. Governor Brown received a huge applause when he gave a personal thank you to Robbie Hunter, the leader of the Building and Construction Trades, for the tireless efforts to put people back to work through skilled apprenticeships at a prevailing wage.
“Thanks to the Refinery Bill and the apprenticeship programs, there are thousands of people going to work at joint apprenticeship programs at a prevailing wage, and that’s pretty good, so thanks, Robbie.”
The governor’s speech really lit up when he talked about the progress made toward protecting immigrant workers, another crowning achievement of Brown’s legislative victories. In addition to passing a bill to allow undocumented workers to obtain drivers licenses so they wouldn’t be forced into breaking the law simply driving to work, last year Governor Brown supported the successful Protect Immigrant Workers bill which strengthened protection from immigration threats employers in retaliation for exercising protected rights. The bill also took the bold step of expanding the definition of “extortion” to apply to threats from employers to reveal a person’s immigration status.
“If an employer says that he’s going to report a worker who’s organizing a labor campaign to Immigration, that’s an unfair labor practice. So let the undocumented workers organize to their hearts’ content because they’re not going to be deported, that’s for sure. We have a Labor Board that won’t let that happen.”
Like the beginning of his speech, the Governor ended on a very optimistic note letting folks know that even though it’s been a busy and productive 3 years, he still has a lot more to do. Saying with a laugh, “Listen if I didn’t get to your bill yet, relax. I plan to be around for the next 5 years to make it happen.”
As the Governor pointed out, most of us aren’t paying too close attention to his opponents so we’re pretty confident that he is right. We’re really looking forward to continuing our work to rebuild the middle class one worker at a time in partnership with Governor Brown in the future. But for now, it was refreshing to sip on a green, “Solidarity Rocks” cocktail this St. Patrick’s Day in celebration of just how far we’ve come over the last few years.