Rants & Raves for the Week of March 22nd, 2010
Today, the last Toyota Tacoma rolled off the line at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) in Fremont. Next Thursday, April 1, the last Corolla will roll off the line and Toyota has said it will shutter the plant, one of the most productive Toyota factories in the world. If the plant closes as Toyota has planned, on April 1, 5,000 union workers will lose their jobs. An estimated 20,000 other workers in California will lose their jobs too, as parts suppliers for the NUMMI plant are forced to shut their doors. Pacific Coast MS Industries in Tracy, along with other suppliers, will shut down on the same day as NUMMI, sending thousands of workers into a brutal job market with sky-high unemployment rates of 12.5%.
California has spent years making Toyota executives rich — Toyota is by far the most profitable carmaker in the world. Overall, 18% of ALL Toyotas are sold in California. The Toyota Corolla, built at NUMMI, was the No. 1 selling car during the federal Cash for Clunkers program—a program that subsidized car sales with $3 billion in public funds. California also threw public money at Toyota, subsidizing worker training programs and infrastructure payments.
And how does Toyota repay the loyalty and hard work of Californians? By shutting down the NUMMI plant and running off to other countries to build their cars, though it won't stop them from selling their cars in California. Toyota still has time to reverse this devastating decision. NUMMI is a model of efficiency and productivity. The workers have spent their lives helping build Toyota into the international powerhouse that it is. The image-challenged automaker could go a long to restoring the confidence of consumers by doing the right thing and keeping this award-winning plant open.
Governor Schwarzenegger busted out his veto stamp again this week, killing two good bills that would have helped California families and businesses in our deepening recession. The Governor vetoed a bill to provide tax relief for Californians homeowners forced to sell their homes in a short sale and green tech companies that receive federal stimulus funds. Instead of siding with struggling families Arnold chose to side with tax cheats when he balked at a provision included in SB x8 32 that would increase penalties on big businesses and wealthy individuals who provide false information on their tax forms. Yet again, Schwarzenegger sacrificed the needs of working families and job creation to the interests of his corporate friends.
The Gov also shot down SB x8 29 (Steinberg), a bill that would have exempted state civil service employees funded at least 95 percent by sources other than the General Fund, and employees of the Franchise Tax Board and the State Board of Equalization (tax collecting revenue generating agencies), from his furlough scheme. As a whole, Arnold’s furlough plan is shortsighted and punitive, but furloughing employees when it saves the state no money makes absolutely no sense. The Employment Development Department (EDD), for example, is nearly 100% funded by the federal government. At a time of highest demand for unemployment services, EDD’s workers are over-worked, surviving a 15% paycut, on “self-directed” furlough, which means they bank a day off that they have to use by the end of 2011. All that for no general fund savings. At the time of the veto, the Governor said: “It is necessary to apply furloughs across the board, with limited exemptions as needed to protect public health and safety, to effectively manage the workforce, and to avoid inequities and morale problems for state employees.” So let’s make sure we have this straight: Arnold wants to slash worker pay for no good reason for the sake of morale?
US Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) makes his debut on the rants list this week for taking a page from Sen. Jim Bunning by fighting to block a stopgap measure that would provide $9 billion in jobless benefits to our nation’s unemployed workers. Coburn’s heartless, gutless actions today mean that those who have been out of work more than six months may lose benefits and the recently unemployed won’t be eligible for health care. Unemployment benefits are literally a lifeline for millions of out of work Americans. Coburn’s actions – supported by his Republican colleagues – are nothing short of disgraceful and signal just how far the “Party of No” has strayed from basic decency.
History was made this week when President Obama signed into law a health care reform bill that’s a momentous step toward comprehensive health coverage for all Americans. While the insurance giants did everything they could to stop reform, pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars in to a campaign to kill the bill, reform advocates held strong. In California, grassroots actions by labor unions and allies were critical to securing the support of every one of the state’s Democratic congressional members.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski had this to say: “We need to build on this victory to ensure that every single Californian and American is able to get quality, affordable health care. We’re much closer to that goal than we’ve ever been. Now we have to fight even harder to finish the job.”
An Alameda Superior Court judge ruled that the Governor's furloughs of special funded state employees is illegal and ordered a stop to the furloughs. Earlier, the same judge ordered that the workers were due back pay. Yet another decision that shows Schwarzenegger’s furlough policy is unwarranted, unwise, illegal, and wrong.
An important Unemployment Insurance bill took a big step toward becoming a long this week when it was passed out of two committees at the Capitol. Currently, laid off workers interested in training programs are in a catch-22. If they enroll in training, they have to wait for an EDD determination that they qualify for training. To be qualified, EDD must find that you are laid off because of the lack of demand for your skills and that the training you want to enter will give you skills to find a job in today's labor market. Sounds reasonable right? BUT … an EDD determination can take up to 10 weeks and, during that time, your unemployment benefits are suspended. Most people can't suspend their only source of income for 10 weeks. So laid off workers either sign up for training and face the risk of losing their benefits OR they can stay home, no training, and look for jobs that just aren't there.
AB 2058 (Block) and SB 968 (Negrete Mcleod) would address this catch-22 by requiring that when our unemployment rate is above 8.5%, workers can enter training and continue to receive their UI benefits. The Obama Administration issued guidance to states in may and august of 2009 encouraging us to expand the types of training that would make a laid off worker continue to be eligible for UI benefits. Courses that help you earn a GED or an associate's degree should qualify. These bills passed the Assembly Insurance Committee and Senate Labor Committees, respectively, on Wednesday and move on to Appropriations Committees. We hope to get these bills done in the next few months so that workers can make good decisions about training and school opportunities for the summer.
Legislative recess starts at the end of the day! The legislature is taking next week off — no floor sessions, no committee hearings. While recess is vacation for some, it’s much needed time for us to study all those bad bills that have been introduced by anti-worker lawmakers that do things like take away overtime pay, lunch breaks, weaken regulations and roll back labor law enforcement. Happy recess!