Republican Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s aversion to answering questions from the media went from peculiar to flat-out weird this week. After a tour of the Union Pacific terminal of Oakland, Whitman held a press conference. All was going according to plan until a reporter had the gall to ask Whitman a question. At that point, Meg-a-Bucks Meg shut down the press conference and kicked out the media. This is just the latest incident in a troubling trend of Whitman avoiding the tough questions (or, for that matter, any questions) about her candidacy. If we’ve learned anything from Sarah Palin’s disastrous stint as a VP candidate, it’s that you can run from the tough questions but you can’t hide. The people of California deserve more information about Meg’s plans for California than can be found in her slick 60-second TV ads that are currently blanketing the airwaves across the state.
State Senator Tom Harman (R- 35th District) wants to create a redundant government bureaucracy to study the economic impact of proposed legislation on corporations and businesses. This week he introduced SB X8 60, heard by the Senate Rules committee, which would create a new joint legislative committee to analyze the economic impact of proposed legislation…a job that’s already tasked to the legislative policy and appropriations committees. The bill is nothing more than a smokescreen by Republicans as part of their longstanding efforts to weaken worker protections like meal periods and the eight-hour day. Instead of trying to create new bureaucracies, Harman and his Republican colleagues ought to be working with Democrats in the legislature on real solutions to California’s ongoing jobs crisis. SB X8 60 was heard and held in committee.
Candice Traeger, Chair of the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board, continued to shrug off responsibility for the Board’s reputation of being the place where good Cal/OSHA investigations go to die. She spent her time before a joint Assembly and Senate Labor Committee hearing this week congratulating herself about her Board’s “year of customer service” while refusing to acknowledge some of the inexplicable decisions her Board and its administrative law judges (ALJ’s) have handed down during her tenure. Among the Board’s ridiculous decisions under Traeger: Dismissing a Cal/OSHA citation of an employer that left a dangerous nail gun unattended while connected to a compressor, citing a lack of evidence that a 3 ¼ nail could do serious harm to a person; and reducing a penalty to a mere slap on the wrist in a case in which an employee sustained serious injuries after falling 17 feet through an unguarded opening.
At this week’s hearing, Traeger welcomed legislative guidance to help her Board understand the meaning of Labor Code sections. It’s hard to take her offer seriously given her Board’s practice of creating judicial precedent that often flies in the face of the spirit and meaning of Labor Code statute.
Add Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander to the list of Republicans who can't pass up the opportunity to thwart workers' freedom to unionize, especially if it means padding the pockets of the big businesses that funnel huge sums of cash into their campaigns. This week, Sen. Corker placed a hold on a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, simply because the House-passed version of the bill would finally give truck drivers at FedEx (a Memphis-based company that is the third largest contributor to Corker's campaign) the same NLRB union organizing rights as drivers at other shipping companies. Sen. Alexander (who has also taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from FedEx) stood with his colleague and said that he will use “every right and privilege I have as a senator” to prevent FedEx drivers from organizing. How far are these two willing to go to protect one company in their home state from having to collectively bargain with its workers?
Labor’s 2010 Joint Legislative Conference – held this week in Sacramento — was a resounding success, leaving participants inspired and ready to tackle the huge challenges facing working families this year. Nearly 700 union leaders and members participated in substantive workshops on issues ranging from the state budget to job creation, and generated new legislative ideas on how to get our economy back on track.
Keynote speakers included US Senator Barbra Boxer, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and New Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez. Participants also heard from – and expressed support for –workers at the Rio Tinto mines in Boron, who have been locked out by a greedy foreign corporation, and the NUMMI auto manufacturing plant in Fremont, which Toyota is threatening to close resulting in the loss of 5,000 jobs at the plant. Longtime organizer and musician Si Khan set the tone at the dinner Monday night leading a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in a rousing rendition of Solidarity Forever. Participants took their enthusiasm to the Capitol on Tuesday, where they lobbied members on labor’s priority bills.
Attorney General Jerry Brown took a strong stand this week against employers who try to increase their profit margin by exploiting workers. Brown filed a lawsuit against an Imperial Valley farm labor contractor, Juan Munoz, for failing to pay minimum wage and overtime, as well as committing “potentially deadly” worker safety violations by neglecting to provide rest breaks, potable drinking water or shade to field workers. Munoz supplied workers to onion farms in Kern County and in the Coachella Valley and Mojave Desert.
“In the scorching summer months, farm work can be dangerous if workers aren't given rest breaks, shade and drinking water,” Brown said. “We have no tolerance for contractors like Munoz who deny their workers a fair wage and subject them to potentially deadly working conditions.”
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s furlough scheme is drawing fire from both sides of the aisles. This week, strong bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature have landed a measure that would exempt state employees whose jobs are not funded through the general fund and employees at the Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board from the furlough. SB x8 29, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, overwhelming passed the Senate on a 27-7 vote and the Assembly 70-7. Most state employees face three furlough days a month and a nearly 15 percent pay cut, even the 70,000 state workers whose positions are funded through user funds or federal funds. These furloughs don’t save the state a dime, yet lead to hardship for both families and businesses. Despite the strong bipartisan support the bill received, a representative from the Governor’s office has signaled he will veto the bill.