Teamster Tackles Corporate Democrat in California Assembly Race

by Steve Early

JovankaBeckles3299strike

It has become a movement mantra, as labor suffers betrayal after betrayal by Democrats and Republicans alike: union members should run for office themselves.

Rhetoric on this subject is cheap and easy. But running successful candidates is not. Even labor activists with considerable skill and experience have found it difficult to win public office.

Yet in California’s “jungle primary” in June, a Teamster from Richmond astounded many observers by placing second in her state legislative race.

Jovanka Beckles, a two-term city councilor, county worker, and past Labor Notes Troublemakers School speaker, now advances to the November run-off for Assembly District 15, which includes Richmond, Berkeley, and part of Oakland.

She’s up against Buffy Wicks, a well-connected former White House official who recently relocated to the East Bay. Wicks has been personally endorsed by former President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who is likely to become California’s next governor.

The November showdown between Beckles, a strong Bernie Sanders supporter, and Wicks, who managed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 California primary campaign, gives some unions a chance to do penance for their short-sighted embrace of Clinton two years ago.

It’s also an important test of whether East Bay labor’s post-primary backing for one of its own will translate into the kind of union member mobilization necessary to overcome the paid media blitz already underway on Wicks’ behalf.

“We don’t have a million dollars to send out a bunch of mailers,” Beckles said, in a recent appeal for more volunteers. “We’re not trying to elect another status-quo Democrat.”

OVERCOMING DISADVANTAGES

Why don’t union candidates win more often? One disadvantage, resumé-wise, is that the demands of local union leadership or activism can leave little time for personal involvement in community affairs or service on local boards and commissions. Working-class candidates may be well known in union circles but less familiar to the larger electorate. Their opponents are often well-funded and better-networked professionals, businesspeople, and “civic leaders” long identified, for better or worse, with local public policymaking.

Beckles wasn’t a lone individual candidate when she broke into electoral politics in Richmond. She won a council seat in 2010, after an earlier defeat, because she had become a neighborhood council activist and then a citywide leader of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

The RPA is a 14-year old local political group that has dues-paying members and a year-round program of organizing around labor and community issues. All of its candidates for city council or mayor run on a common slate and must refuse all business donations.

The RPA now boasts a super-majority of five out of seven members on the part-time Richmond city council. During her tenure, Beckles and her council allies developed a track record of impressive local achievements that now lends credibility and substance to her current RPA-backed bid for an open assembly seat. (For details, see here.)

Still, for more than a year Beckles has had to juggle her continuing council duties, four 10-hour shifts a week as a child protection worker for Contra Costa County with in Richmond, plus conducting her campaign for Assembly on weekends, free evenings, vacation days, and holidays.

Only in the homestretch of her general election campaign has she been able to take a leave from her demanding day job to campaign more freely.

PEOPLE-POWERED

If the RPA was the original force propelling Beckles’ candidacy, she now has supporters of all kinds—knocking on doors, making phone calls, hosting house-parties, displaying yard signs, and handing out flyers throughout the East Bay.

RPA volunteers have been joined by Oakland and Berkeley members of one of the country’s fastest-growing chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, which includes many young labor activists. Since last year, Beckles has also gotten key help from the national Our Revolution, the Sanders campaign spinoff based in Washington, D.C., and local political groups like the Wellstone Democrats and Berkeley Progressive Alliance.

Wicks—thanks to her past role as a Clinton Super PAC director and her continuing ties to national Democratic Party donor networks—was the beneficiary of $1.2 million in primary spending ($240,000 of which paid for the services of the same San Francisco consulting firm used by that city’s Chamber of Commerce.)

Wicks’ funders include wealthy donors tied to Lyft, Uber, and Bay Area tech firms, charter school interests, major landlords, a health care industry PAC, and Govern for California, a business-oriented Super PAC created by the board chair of Walmart and a former top advisor to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In contrast, Beckles raised and spent only about $160,000, mostly in smaller, in-state donations. She ran as a “people-powered” candidate, free of corporate money and relied on few paid staffers or outside consultants.

ONE OF OUR OWN

In the primary, some California unions associated with Labor for Bernie (and long supportive of Labor Notes) backed Beckles because of her support for workers’ and tenants’ rights, single payer health care, and getting big money out of politics. These included the National Union of Healthcare Workers, Transit (ATU) Local 192, and University Professional and Technical Employees (CWA).

But they were joined by the Bay Area affiliates of several national unions that were missing from the Sanders camp two years ago—including Beckles’ own Teamsters Joint Council 7 and SEIU Local 1021, which represents Richmond city workers and nearly 50,000 other public employees in northern California.

“How often do we get a chance to elect one of our own?” asks Local 1021 political organizer Gabriel Haaland, who has spent the last year helping Beckles defy Democratic Party insider predictions that her bid for higher office was hopeless.

Since June, Beckles backers like Haaland have succeeded in broadening the labor base for her campaign. It now includes the Alameda and Contra Costa County Labor Councils, the California Labor Federation, both statewide teachers’ unions, AFSCME, and the California Nurses Association.

Kathryn Lybarger, who serves as president of the state AFL-CIO and AFSCME Local 3299 at the University of California, has hailed Beckles, an immigrant from Panama, as “a candidate strongly aligned with our values and so representative of our members.

“We are utterly confident that she will continue to fight for us when she gets to Sacramento,” Lybarger said.

HOLDOUTS

Not everyone is on board. The Alameda County Building Trades Council backs Wicks over Beckles—despite the latter’s past advocacy of project labor agreements, the usual litmus test for endorsement by the trades.

The building trades council in neighboring Contra Costa County has been a reliable political ally of Chevron, Richmond’s largest employer. Four years ago, its member unions even joined the Chevron-backed “independent expenditure” committee that spent $3 million trying unsuccessfully to defeat Beckles and other pro-labor progressives running for city council.

Ex-SEIU President Andy Stern is an individual endorser of Wicks—despite the fact that two major SEIU locals and their state council favor Beckles. Since leaving the union, Stern has become a corporate board member and gig economy consultant. He worked closely with Wicks and other Obama Administration staffers when they were lining up union support for the Affordable Care Act eight years ago and sidelining labor proponents of Medicare for All. In the Assembly District 15 race today, California single-payer advocates favor Beckles over Wicks, whose position on health care reform is much weaker.

Over Labor Day weekend, Beckles is scheduled to appear at a teachers’ union picnic and a rally with SEIU members protesting out-sourcing by Kaiser Permanente. If Beckles’ consistent solidarity with local labor causes is reciprocated through sufficient union voter turnout and spending on her behalf, she may indeed be joining the Assembly in January.

And there, she will be a rare “corporate-free” voice for many other working class and poor Californians whose interests tend to be overlooked by state legislators who do take money from business PACs and industry associations.

Steve Early is a Labor Notes policy committee member, a Jovanka Beckles supporter, and fellow member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. He is the author, most recently, of Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, a book about local political organizing in Richmond, CA. To find out more about Beckles’ campaign, see here. This article is reposted from Labor Notes.

CORRECTION: It’s the Alameda County Building Trades Council that’s backing Wicks, not the Contra Costa County Building Trades Council as we at first reported. We have also clarified the following paragraph to reflect that member unions of the Contra Costa County Building Trades Council were the ones who backed Chevron’s committee four years ago.

Overtime Pay for Farmworkers Heads for Another Vote in California

By David Bacon
Capital and Main, August 11, 2016
http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2016/08/farm-worker-overtime-bill-heads-for.html
http://capitalandmain.com/latest-news/issues/labor-and-economy/farm-worker-overtime-bill-heads-for-another-vote-0811/

farm workers

A farm worker harvests romaine lettuce near Mecca, in the Coachella Valley, where the temperature this summer reached 115 degrees. Workers cutting lettuce in this crew are paid by the piecerate, and work so fast they are almost running through the field, bent over double all day.

The fight for farm worker overtime is going down to the wire in California’s current legislative session, which will adjourn at the end of August. And as Assembly Bill 1066, which would require it, moves through the legislature, Jewish and African American organizations have made a commitment to win the votes it needs for passage.

A bill that would have phased in overtime pay for farm workers, Assembly Bill 2757, passed the State Senate earlier this year, but then failed to pass the State Assembly in a vote on June 2. Since then a new bill, AB 1066, has progressed through the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, and may be sent to the Assembly within days.

The bill would then need to pick up the four votes by which AB 2757 failed in June. They will have to come from either the eight Democrats who voted “no” or the six who failed to vote at all. Continue reading

California Faculty Union Has Tentative Settlement

Will-Strike
UPDATE: Officials with the California Faculty Association and the California State University system  reached a a tentative agreement to avoid a strike.  The agreement calls for a 10.5% increase in salaries over the next two years.  This dispute was over a contract re-opener. Only the salaries were in dispute.

Seth Sandronsky
Members of the 26,000-strong California Faculty Association (CFA) are threatening to carry out their first system-wide, simultaneous strike in the event contract talks with the California State University administration (CSU) reach a stalemate. The union, which represents faculty, counselors, librarians and athletics coaches, is seeking a five percent raise, along with 2.65 percent service step, or seniority, increases, and says its members will walk out on all 23 campuses April 13-15 and April 18-19. (Disclosure: CFA is a financial supporter of Capital & Main.)
The university system claims it cannot afford to pay the salary increases and is offering a two percent salary hike. “Half of all the new state funding provided to the CSU this year is being directed toward employee compensation,” said CSU Chancellor Tim White in an email to Capital & Main. Continue reading

Historic Minimum Wage Hike in California

raisewagecityhallSteven Mikalan
(updated) March 31.
California is on track to become the first state to officially raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. On March 31, California’s official celebration of labor leader Cesar Chavez, Democratic legislators agreed to raise the wage from its current $10 hourly mark to $10.50 beginning January 1, 2017, followed by continuous upticks that will result in the wage leveling off at $15 an hour by 2022. (Businesses employing fewer than 26 workers would get an extra year to institute the increases.) Governor Jerry Grown has said he will sign the bill  on Monday.
After that the minimum can rise – but not fall – according to inflation. The agreement includes a provision giving workers three days of paid sick leave annually; it also permits California governors to freeze the wage in times of extreme economic downturn.
The movement toward a $15 wage has not followed a straight line, with individual city electorates or governments passing ordinances raising local wages higher than the state minimum (which cities will still be allowed to do under the proposed law), but making little headway outside of California’s liberal coastal belt. The issue has recently been complicated by the emergence of two competing union-sponsored measures that have sought placement on this November’s state ballot.
At a media teleconference held Monday afternoon, labor leaders and others hailed the coming pay hike.
“No one who works hard should live in poverty,” said the event’s moderator, Laphonza Butler, who serves as both president of the Service Employees International Union’s state council and as co-chair of the Los Angeles Fight for $15 committee. And, in a sign that labor is not taking its apparent victory for granted, she added that until the legislation passes, unions would not cease their efforts to put the matter of raising the wage before voters. Continue reading

Temporary Workers Not Allowed to Form Unions

Seth Sandronsky
Self-employed independent contractors in California can neither form unions nor negotiate collective bargaining pacts, but part of those conditions could soon change, according to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego). Gonzalez, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Women in the Workplace, introduced Assembly Bill 1727 on January 28 as an amendment to the state’s Labor Code. Gonzalez’s bill, which will be updated today, is called the California 1099 Self-Organizing Act. It would allow independent contractors to form employee associations that could negotiate working conditions and pay, though not to form labor unions.
“All workers should have the right to organize and collectively bargain,” Gonzalez said in an email to Capital & Main. “Our laws need to catch up to the innovation happening in our economy to ensure independent contractors have a pathway to these workplace rights as well.”

Assembly Bill 1727 would not compel employers to classify independent contractors as employees.

AB 1727 would not, however, compel employers to classify independent contractors as employees — nor would it allow these workers to form a traditional labor union or to join an existing union. That rubs Steve Smith, director of communications for the California Labor Federation, the wrong way.
“We agree with Assemblywoman Gonzalez that self-employed workers should have every right to bargain collectively, but have concerns about the approach,” Smith told Capital & Main by phone, “The problem with AB 1727 is that it basically enshrines an unfair business model that companies like Uber use to misclassify their workforce as independent contractors instead of employees.”

Nonunion workers without the right to bargain collectively get the short end of the stick, say critics of the gig economy. “Unionized workers have on average 20 percent higher wages than their nonunion peers,” wrote Evan Butcher for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, last September.
Uber, the app-based, ride-hailing firm, is one of the best-known businesses that rely on independent contractors. The company sells labor services by arranging for individuals to drive their own cars as personal taxis to earn income. And in early 2016, Amazon.com, the popular online retail giant, began to expand its delivery of goods with independent contractor drivers through Amazon Flex. Continue reading

Teachers/Public Sector Unions Under Assault

By Joshua Pechthalt

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that asks whether all workers in public sector unions, be they members or not, have an obligation to contribute to the union’s costs to represent them in grievances and at the bargaining table.
The court has already ruled that unions have an obligation to represent non-members and that is not likely to change. It also ruled that non-members have an obligation to contribute to the costs of representation and bargaining. If the court now rules in favor of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, the justices would be overturning a nearly 40-year precedent.

PechthaltThis may seem like a technical issue with little impact beyond public employee unions. But the implications of this decision could be far-reaching. If the court ends “fair share” union dues, it would hurt our unions’ ability to represent our members and weaken our ability to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.
For those of us in education, it could also undercut our ability to improve learning and teaching conditions by advocating for smaller class sizes, restoring art and music programs and improving teacher training and evaluation. While non-members do not contribute to the political program of their unions, the erosion of union funds will have an impact on our ability to organize in all aspects of union work.

The most obvious example is how the labor movement supported Proposition 30 in 2012. Union support for that historic measure, which raised income taxes on California’s wealthiest individuals, has generated more than $6 billion a year for education and ended years of devastating cuts and layoffs. Millions of students have benefited. Continue reading

When Workers Fight: NUHW Wins Battle with Kaiser

National Union of Healthcare Workers

National Union of Healthcare Workers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

http://www.beyondchron.org/when-workers-fight-nuhw-wins-battle-with-kaiser/

Cal Winslow, Beyond Chron

The therapists, counselors, and social workers at Kaiser Permanente in California have won a magnificent victory. In a last minute retreat, in the face of an open-ended strike, Kaiser, the giant California health care corporation, settled with 1400 workers and their union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

The therapists’ victory is a landmark, in healthcare and above all in mental healthcare. The bottom line: these workers have won patient care ratios, they’ve won the right to advocate for patients, and they won these in a context of a nationwide drive to cut costs and press productivity in an industry awash in cash.

For Barry Kamil, a psychologist with 34 years experience at Kaiser in Richmond, CA, “It’s an historic victory. It puts our union in the forefront of the movement for getting mental health care on par with medical care.  Kaiser’s resistance has been unbelievable; they wanted to eliminate us as a union.”

The Kaiser workers won on economic demands as well; 6 % the first year, 4.5% plus bonuses in the second and third years of a three year contract. They protected their pension benefits; Kaiser – what’s new – proposed erasing their defined benefit plan.
Continue reading

California Judge Throws Out Anti-Union Election

By David Bacon
Working In These Times, 9/25/15
http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2015/09/california-judge-throws-out-anti-union.html
http://inthesetimes.com/working

peaches

A California farm worker picking peaches.

FRESNO, CA — The strategy by one of the nation’s largest growers to shed its obligation to sign a contract with the United Farm Workers was dealt a key setback last week.  An administrative law judge not only threw out one of the dirtiest decertification elections in recent labor history, but did so because California growers had given tens of thousands of dollars to set the union-busting scheme in motion.

That election, at Gerawan Farming, has a key role in an even broader grower strategy to invalidate the enforcement mechanism of the state’s farm worker labor law.  Last week’s ruling seriously undermines their case, now before the state’s Supreme Court, in which they claim to be protecting workers’ democratic rights.  Instead, they have been exposed using obviously illegal methods to deny workers union representation. Continue reading

A Happy Labor Day—Really

dabor_lay

(Photo: AP/Lynne Sladky)
Protesters, part of the national Fight for 15 movement, applaud in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour at a church in Miami in April.

Harold Meyerson. The American Prospect

Labor Day is upon us, marking an end to summertime, when the livin’ is easy and Americans take their well-earned vacations. Well, some Americans. About 56 percent of American workers took weeklong vacations last summer—a new low-point in a steady decline that began in early 1980s, when more than 80 percent took weeklong vacations.

That depressing bit of news is of a piece, alas, with everything else we know about the declining fortunes of American workers. As the Economic Policy Institute documented in report released Wednesday, productivity rose by 72.2 percent and median hourly compensation (that’s wages plus benefits) by just 8.7 percent between 1973 and 2014. As the National Employment Law Project reported in a study released the following day, real median hourly wages declined by 4 percent from 2009 to 2014. Continue reading

Workers Take Most of the Risk


Robert Reich

Robert Reich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Upsurge in Uncertain Work
Robert Reich
As Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don’t know how much they’ll be earning next week or even tomorrow.

This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.

It’s the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it’s happening at lightening speed. It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.
Continue reading