Labor, Business and Government Agree: Building Workforce Partnerships is Key to Economic Recovery

When was the last time you saw a labor advocate, a government representative and a corporate CEO still down and hash out ways they can work together towards a common goal of renewing our workforce and reviving our economy? If you’re thinking, “that would never happen,” you’ve obviously never been to the California Labor Federation’s “Building Workforce Partnerships” conference.

Sponsored by the Workforce and Economic Development (WED) Program, this unique and groundbreaking conference has exploded in popularity in recent years, drawing the best and brightest economists, labor activists, environmentalists, workforce experts, business leaders, government representatives and others from all across the state and country. Even though the participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds, they all share a common goal – to build a new, sustainable economy fueled by advanced manufacturing and renewable energy jobs.

The annual conference took place this week at the Hilton and Crowne Plaza hotels (yes, our group was so big we needed two hotels). This year’s theme was “Get RegionAL,” and as WED Executive Director Tim Rainey describes it:

The event made clear three points critical for a good jobs recovery — win the war of ideas with an economic narrative around fairness and growth, build regional power to actualize individual and community potential, and revitalize manufacturing as core to a real and deep recovery.

The conference opened up by addressing the serious inequalities in our workforce and economy, and what we can do to give those at the bottom the opportunity to move to the top (or at the very least, into the middle). The first session, entitled “The Economics of Equity – Inequality, Social Inclusion and Economic Growth,” featured panelists Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute and Steven Pitts on the UC Berkeley Labor Center, and moderator Manuel Pastor of USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity.


We have had vast income inequality over last 30 years, on top of some major race and gender inequalities that were already there… those persistent inequities have to be addressed. Because when we get unemployment down — which should happen around 2016 — some communities will still live in perpetual recession. We have to rebuild an economy that works for everyone, and eliminate these persistent inequities. If we do that, we’ll be a better nation in every which way, including economically.

At the “Regional Power Building for Inclusion and Prosperity” panel, moderator Chris Benner was joined by Cindy Chavez of the South Bay Labor Council, Mary Gonzalez of the Gamaliel Foundation, Veronica Carrizales of CA CALLS and Allen Smith of Urban Habitat. The panel focused heavily on building power by preparing a new generation of leaders who recognize and represent the values of the lower- and middle-class.


In order to make transformational change in our communities, it’s going to require new people in leadership positions with new ideas!

The most notable convergence of views took place during the “Reinventing Manufacturing from the Community Up” panel. Former union organizer and labor expert Dan Swinney was joined by Silicon Valley CEO Carl Guardino and Ro Khanna from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Moderator Bruce Herman facilitated an in-depth discussion on advanced manufacturing – an industry that all three panelists agree is vital to the restoration of our workforce, and can only become reality by ensuring that workers are prepared to step into those jobs.

CEO Carl Guardino pointed out the value of having a well-training and educated workforce:

Both trades as well as manufacturers need education and skills – it’s the key to advanced manufacturing. In fact, it's usually NOT the CEO with all the great ideas- those ideas often come straight from the workers on the assembly line!

Over the course of the three day conference, participants had the opportunity to choose from a wealth of unique and cutting-edge workshops. From the Workforce Investment Act to social networking to layoff aversion to green hospitals and labor-management partnerships, the conference workshops touched on a wide variety of issues that affect the way our workforce grows and functions.

The final plenary was perhaps the highlight of the entire conference. California Secretary of Labor Marty Morgenstern addressed the participants on the interconnectivity of government and good jobs.

Good wages demand good skills. Good skill demand good training. None of this happen without economic development. It’s about cooperation. During these times, government has to provide all the help it can. And Gov. Brown is committed- the state government can and will provide help.

Following Morgenstern, special guest speaker Kirstin Downey, author of “The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins – Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and Minimum Wage,” shared some remarkable details about the life of Frances Perkins, the first female Secretary of Labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Frances Perkins applied emotional intelligence to the world around her- not the world she wished it was, the world as it actually was. Her handiwork is all around us to this day. It’s worthwhile to think of ways we can apply Perkins’ ideas and inspiration today.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom closed the conference by addressing the serious issue of unemployment, and what the Brown administration is doing to put millions jobless Californians back to work.

We’re working on a new aggregated economic development and workforce strategy. We need to address these issues together. We’re not talking about moving back, we’re raising the bar.

Although the conference itinerary was jam-packed, many participants believe the best part about the conference was having the opportunity to learn from and network with one another to formulate the beginnings of these invaluable workforce partnerships. Click here to learn more about the conference.