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Senate GOP leader offers new transit-strike ban

All public transit employees in California would be prohibited from striking, under a bill rolled out Monday by the state Senate’s Republican leader.

State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Brea, pitched the reworked bill during an interview with Ronn Owens on KGO Radio.

Bob Huff“If we’re going to make the people of California reliant on public transit systems, then we also have an obligation to make sure those systems can be relied on,” Huff said. “Shutting down public transit is neither safe nor fair. Police officers and fire fighters aren’t allowed to strike because they provide a vital public service. The same reason applies here. Public transit is a vital public service and it’s too important to be used as a bargaining chip against the needs of the people.”

Huff in September had gutted and amended SB 423 to compel BART workers to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts even after those contracts expire. But he only amended the bill on the last working day of the legislative session, so no action was taken.

When BART workers did go on strike, it cost the Bay Area about $70 million per day, according to the Bay Area Council, and public opinion weighed heavily against the striking workers.

“There are approximately 400 public transit agencies in California serving 1.35 billion riders each year and when union contracts are up, threats of strikes increase dramatically,” said Huff. “Workers for the two largest transit systems in California – San Francisco and Los Angeles – have combined to strike nine times since 1976. Management is just as responsible for creating these situations, and enough is enough.”

Yet Huff’s new bill would control and penalize only workers and unions, not management.

Huff’s newly amended SB 423 would ban strikes by all California public transit workers, with anyone who violates the ban subject to removal or other disciplinary action. Huff says the bill provides “a fair violation determination process” for such workers, but if a violation is found, such workers would lose two days of pay for every day of strike.

Public transit unions similarly would be banned from instigating strikes, and if the Public Employee Relations Board finds a violation, that union’s rights would be forfeited for an indefinite period; after three years of forfeiture, an employee organization could seek reinstatement by the Legislature.

BART’s biggest unions didn’t immediately respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2013
Under: Bob Huff, California State Senate, Labor politics, Transportation | 14 Comments »

Local lawmakers stand with fast-food workers

Several East Bay lawmakers have expressed solidarity with fast-food workers in the Bay Area and across the nation who walked picket lines Thursday to demand a $15-per-hour wage and the right to unionize without management interference.

From Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee:

“Today, I stand with workers across the country who are striving to build a better life for themselves and their families by fighting for a living wage. Those who work hard and play by the rules shouldn’t have to struggle to keep a roof over their head or put food on the table.

“Low pay not only harms the families forced to subsist on it, but it also holds back our recovery from the Great Recession. Better pay will put more money into local businesses and spur economic growth. That’s why a living wage is not about asking for a handout. Rather, it’s about valuing work. And it’s about growing the economy from the bottom up by increasing working families’ purchasing power. Americans on today’s picket lines aren’t just standing up for themselves – they are standing up for a stronger America.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“I applaud the courageous action taken by thousands of workers around the country today by participating in the walkout for job protection and fair wages.

“To re-build our economy and expand the middle class we need to put more money into the pockets of workers in fast-growing, low-wage jobs by creating a living wage. Our goal cannot simply be to increase the minimum wage, but rather, establish a living wage, with the dignity of benefits to achieve a good standard of living to afford the basics while working one full time job.

“A living wage will increase the quality of life for low wage earning families and will lift our entire economy.

“I am proud to support the workers striking today for a living wage, and I will continue to fight to make sure families receive the fair wages they deserve.”

From Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley:

“Fast food CEOs have super-sized salaries, while their workers earn unlivable wages, wages that can’t support their own families. A single mom in Oakland with two school-age children needs to earn more than $50,000 to make ends meet, while the average fast food worker only earns between $10,000 and $18,000 a year. Families deserve a living wage. It’s just wrong for McDonald’s and others to ignore this inequity.”

The CEOs and their companies don’t own all of the fast-food outlets; many are owned by franchisees. From International Franchise Association President and CEO Steve Caldeira:

“Mandating increased wages would lead to higher prices for consumers, lower foot traffic and sales for franchise owners, and ultimately, lost jobs and opportunities for employees to become managers or franchise owners. The franchise industry is a proven job-creator and career-builder, yet efforts to double the minimum wage to $15 would clearly jeopardize opportunities for existing and prospective employees.

“Many franchises have developed successful programs designed to help employees rise from entry level to management and ultimately, ownership. Arbitrarily mandating a higher minimum wage will only reduce the amount of entry-level jobs that workers need to gain the skills to move up the employment ladder.”

“This campaign is also designed to pressure employees into organizing, generating much-needed headlines and revenue for labor unions who have faced a sharp decline in private-sector membership for years.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Labor politics, Nancy Skinner, U.S. House | 26 Comments »

Politicians take different tones on BART strike

It’s always interesting to compare the tones that various politicians take when weighing in on labor issues.

In this case, of course, it’s the still-threatened Bay Area Rapid Transit strike. California U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein today wrote to BART management and union leaders to urge a resolution to the standoff:

“We write to strongly encourage all parties involved in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) contract negotiations to use the seven-day ‘cooling off period’ declared by Governor Brown to end the labor dispute.

“The Bay Area relies on a safe, affordable, and reliable public transportation system, and any BART service disruption has significant impacts on our region’s economy and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use the system. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the four-day BART service disruption in July cost the Bay Area at least $73 million in lost productivity.

“We urge you to resume negotiations in good faith, end the dispute, and work together to avoid any further disruptions to BART service.”

That seems pretty even-handed. But yesterday, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, D-Oakland; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, issued a statement after the inquiry board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to review the dispute held a public hearing in Oakland:

“We’re pleased today’s meeting redirected focus on the ultimate goal of finalizing a fair contract that continues to ensure a safe, dependable public transit system. The panel asked important questions, obtaining documents and testimony that revealed the true financial picture of BART, the actual wages workers earn, and the significant safety issues confronted by employees every day.

“Testimony revealed inconsistencies in information BART management made public. For example, the figure given for average BART worker pay has been $79,500. But that figure includes management pay. BART’s own documents given to the panel show train operators earn less than $63,000 and station agents earn $64,000 on average. In addition, we learned that workers have offered to significantly increase contributions to pensions and employee medical.

“These are the type of facts that need to be the focus at the bargaining table. We believe that BART riders deserve good faith negotiations to resume so that rail service can continue uninterrupted.”

No question where they stand, huh?

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Boxer, Bill Quirk, Dianne Feinstein, Labor politics, Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Hilda Solis resigns as U.S. Secretary of Labor

Hilda Solis has resigned from her post as U.S. Secretary of Labor, the Washington Post reports. Before taking the post in 2009, Solis was a Democratic congresswoman from El Monte for eight years, and earlier yet was a state Senator and Assemblywoman.

President Obama issued this statement:

“Over her long career in public service – as an advocate for environmental justice in California, state legislator, member of Congress and Secretary of Labor – Hilda Solis has been a tireless champion for working families. Over the last four years, Secretary Solis has been a critical member of my economic team as we have worked to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and strengthen the economy for the middle class. Her efforts have helped train workers for the jobs of the future, protect workers’ health and safety and put millions of Americans back to work. I am grateful to Secretary Solis for her steadfast commitment and service not only to the Administration, but on behalf of the American people. I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

Posted on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Under: Labor politics, Obama presidency | 13 Comments »

Labor endorsement goes to Loni Hancock

As a battle for a state Senate seat between like-minded, labor-friendly Democrats takes off in the East Bay, a significant labor organization has cast its lot with the incumbent.

The Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council today announced its endorsement of state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, for re-election in the 9th State Senate District. Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, who’s term-limited out of the Assembly next year, has indicated he’s likely to challenge her.

“Senator Hancock is committed to putting people to work in the Bay Area and ensuring that these jobs are good union jobs with living wages, health benefits and a pension to retire on with dignity,” council director Greg Feere said. “Her leadership has been vital on important projects like the bay bridge reconstruction and the fourth bore of the Caldecott tunnel. These projects have produced thousands of local jobs and we look forward to continue working with her in the State Senate.”

The council, with 28 affiliated local unions, handles everything from worker safety and permit discussions to union meetings and other issues centered around the trades. Hancock said she appreciates the endorsement: “I have worked side-by-side with them throughout my years of services to keep jobs in the Bay Area and I look forward to our continued work together in the future.”

Hancock’s campaign received a $6,800 contribution in early August from the State Building and Contruction Trades Council of California’s PAC.

Hancock and Swanson have a lot in common policy-wise, and trade unions have been the biggest bloc of campaign contributors to both. They’re facing off under new conditions: The 9th State Senate District used to start with Albany and Berkeley at the north end, sweep down through Oakland and Alameda and then out through Castro Valley to grab Dublin and Livermore. Newly drawn in redistricting, it now starts in Rodeo and includes all the Western Contra Costa County cities as well as Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont and San Leandro — a more compact, more urban district.

And next June’s will be California’s first regular primary election using the “top two” system, in which candidates of all parties compete on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election. Given the district’s overwhelmingly Democratic registration, it’s easy to imagine two Democrats being the only options on the district’s November 2012 ballot.

Posted on Wednesday, October 12th, 2011
Under: 2012 State Senate election, Assembly, California State Senate, Labor politics, Loni Hancock, Sandre Swanson | 1 Comment »

NLRB: Dems say toMAYto, Boehner says toMAHto

Ah, where would we be without all the glorious political rhetoric in Congress? What’s that, you say… “making actual progress?” Oh, but that would take all the fun out of it.

Today’s case in point: The House today voted 238-186 to pass HR 2587, the “Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act.” The bill would limit the National Labor Relations Board’s authority by preventing the board from “ordering any employer to close, relocate, or transfer employment under any circumstance.” As the Washington Post puts it:

At the heart of the House measure is a months-long dispute over whether Boeing unlawfully retaliated against its union employees in Washington state by transferring a production facility to South Carolina after a series of strikes. The NLRB in April ruled that by moving the facility to a right-to-work state, Boeing was in violation of federal labor laws.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, issued a news release saying the bill would remove the only meaningful legal remedy available to workers if a company illegally moves operations or eliminates work because workers engage in protected activities like forming a union or collective bargaining.

“The Republican bill sends a message to employers to retaliate against employees who may demand a piece of the American dream,” Miller said. “We should be working to create jobs, not send American jobs overseas. We should be working to strengthen the middle class, not tear it down. We should be working together to send the message that, during these most difficult economic times, Congress is on the side of the middle class.”

Miller said that under this bill, if a company closes an entire U.S. plant or part of a U.S. plant and moved the work to China because the U.S. employees organized a union, the NLRB no longer would have the power to order the work to be kept in or returned to the U.S. Republicans voted down an amendment that would have let the NLRB return jobs to America that were illegally sent overseas.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, spoke against the bill today on the House floor:

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says… toMAHto!

“Today the House voted to remove another obstacle to private-sector job creation and long-term economic growth. This bill blocks the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board from telling businesses where they can and can’t create new jobs,” Boehner said. “It’s absurd that the federal government would stop American employers from creating new jobs here at home when millions are out of work and the unemployment rate exceeds nine percent. Under this Administration, American companies are free to create jobs in China but they aren’t free to create them in South Carolina. I’m hopeful that the Senate will join us in taking swift action, and help give American job creators the certainty they need to plan and put Americans back to work.”

Despite Boehner’s “hopeful” demeanor, the Democrat-dominated Senate is likely to kill the bill deader than a doornail.

Posted on Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Under: economy, George Miller, John Boehner, Labor politics, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 7 Comments »

Measure to ice union spending gains $$$, steam

There’s a lot of money piling up behind the proposed ballot measure to ban unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes, including $70,000 in the past week.

In all, I see just short of $1.5 million banked by the “Californians Against Special Interests” campaign committee since the end of April – just over a million by midyear, and almost $493,000 since July 1. The Citizen Power Campaign, which had launched and then abandoned a similar measure early last year, has kicked in $225,000 for this measure, while various Lincoln Clubs have anted up more than $136,000. The biggest individual donor so far, at $200,000, is Edward Bloomfield Jr. of Manhattan Beach – I’m pretty sure that’s laundry-and-real-state mogul William Edward Bloomfield Jr., a prolific contributor to Republican candidates and causes.

The measure, according to its official summary, restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes; the same restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. It would still allow an “opt-in” – voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly in writing. Unions and corporations would be barred from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees, although other political spending would remain unrestricted – including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by the payroll deduction prohibition.

The proponents have until Oct. 24 to gather valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to put this measure on the ballot next year. If it does go on the ballot, watch the unions commit enormous resources to defeat it, maybe even enough to push it past the proposed repeal of the “Amazon tax” to become 2012′s costliest initiative battle.

Posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
Under: ballot measures, campaign finance, Labor politics | 25 Comments »

Local 21 fights imposed contract threat

IFPTE Local 21 members in Contra Costa County delivered tough words this morning to the board of supervisors, which could impose a contract with hefty pay and benefit cuts.

Read the story here.

If you are curious — and I was — you can type the names of those testifying into the Bay Area News Group’s public employee salary database and see what they earn. (For example, public health nurse manager Sue Guest earned in 2010 pay and benefits worth $188,669; network administrator Scott Hutchinson, $144,266; and public health biostatician Juan Reardon, $147,774.)

Check out the video of the testimony.

Posted on Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
Under: Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Labor politics | 6 Comments »

Building trades union targets Safeway

The Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council calls Safeway “The Local Job Molester” in a flyer it will hand out this weekend. (See below)

The trades council is aggrieved over what it describes as Safeway’s decision to hire out-of-town workers and contractor, Tilton Pacific Construction of Rocklin, to build a new super Safeway in El Cerrito.

“Unfortunately, it seems profits are more important to Safeway than local people and local jobs,” the flyer reads. “Yet they want you to spend your hard earned dollar at their store. Safeway’s annual revenue is $42.3 billion.”


Anti-Safeway flyer

Posted on Friday, June 3rd, 2011
Under: Labor politics | 3 Comments »

Legislative battle over self-checkout alcohol sales

Your quick trip to the supermarket for a six-pack of brews or a bottle of vino might take a bit longer if the state Senate approves a bill that would bar retailers from letting customers buy alcohol through self-service checkouts.

self-checkoutAB 183 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, is based on the argument that self-checkout alcohol sales make it easier for minors or already-intoxicated customers to buy, and increase chances of theft. The Assembly approved AB 183 on a 48-26 vote May 26, sending it to the state Senate.

Similar bills have been offered twice before, both by former Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate. His 2007 bill didn’t make it past the Senate Governmental Organization Committee; his 2009 bill was approved by the Legislature but was vetoed last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said there’s “no legitimate evidence to suggest that self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. … Thus, it is unclear what problem this bill seeks to address.”

Among AB 183’s supporters are the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Mothers Against Drunk Driving – somewhat strange bedfellows, given they took ardently opposite sides on last year’s marijuana legalization just a few months ago. Other supporters include several police organizations as well as anti-drug and anti-alcohol groups.

“We believe it is imperative that our youth be taken out of harm’s way in regards to underage drinking,” Michael Henneberry, communications director for San Jose-based UFCW Local 5, said Thursday. “AB 183 is a common-sense fix to the issue and will swiftly mitigate against the major problem of youth using self check to procure liquor. The law applies to union and non-union stores alike and is equitable despite the claims of some retailers.”

Nonetheless, the move toward more self-checkouts means a shrinking need for supermarket labor, the UFCW’s potential members. The union for years has been trying to organize clerks at Fresh & Easy supermarkets, which happen to use an all-self-checkout model; most recently, the UFCW has staged an informational picket line outside that company’s new store in Modesto.

The UFCW, always a prolific contributor to Democratic campaigns and causes, spent $15,000 last year just to lobby for De La Torre’s bill. The union’s Western States Council spent $15,348 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter, but Ma’s bill isn’t listed among those the union has tried to influence.

Opponents of AB 183 such as the California Grocers Association say self-service checkout stations already have a lock-out or “freeze” mechanism that requires a clerk’s intervention to verify age before finalizing all alcohol purchases. They also say studies consistently show that most of the time, minors get alcohol by getting adults to buy it for them.

“When this same legislation was vetoed last year the reason was clear – there is no legitimate evidence to suggest that assisted self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. The same holds true today,” CGA President Ron Fong said Thursday. “Our stores have solid protections in place against minors purchasing alcohol and we see this bill as a solution in search of a problem.”

The California Grocers Association – also a prolific campaign contributor that leans Republican, and gave significant amounts to Schwarzenegger’s committees – spent $60,251 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter on dozens of bills including AB 183.

Posted on Friday, June 3rd, 2011
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Fiona Ma, Labor politics, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »