Part of the Bay Area News Group

Obama honors Cal labor scholar at White House

A Berkeley labor scholar and consultant was among those honored by President Obama at the White House on Thursday as “Champions of Change” for working families.

Netsy FiresteinNetsy Firestein, 62, is a senior fellow at UC-Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and a consultant on work and family, child care, women and labor issues.

As founder and director of the Labor Project for Working Families, Firestein led a coalition that passed paid family leave in California, which covers almost every worker in the state. She also co-founded Family Values @ Work, a network of 21 states working to build a movement for family-friendly workplace policies such as family leave insurance and paid sick days.

Obama’s Champions of Change program lets the White House honor people who do extraordinary things to empower and inspire their communities. Thursday’s batch of 11 honorees were selected for having worked within their companies, communities or organizations for commonsense paid sick and paid leave policies, equal pay and an end to pregnancy discrimination to support families, businesses, and the economy.

The president singled out Firestein’s case as an example, citing her lead role in enacting California’s first-in-the-nation paid family leave law in 2002.

“People said it was a long shot,” Obama said. “And 13 years later, only two other states have done the same. But Netsy has proved that it’s possible – California is growing, businesses are being created. Not only is it possible, it’s the right thing to do. It’s patriotic. We should learn from her example and get those numbers up. We need more states to join in.”

Also speaking at Thursday’s ceremony were senior advisor Valerie Jarrett – chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls – and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez. The honorees took part in two panel discussions on working families moderated by Tina Tchen, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Roy Austin, deputy assistant to the president for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity.

Posted on Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Labor politics, Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

Political transparency protests set for Thursday

Activists are planning 50 events in cities coast to coast – including Berkeley and Walnut Creek – on Thursday urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring contractors that do business with the government to disclose their political spending.

The rallies will include a news conference outside the White House, at which hundreds of thousands of petitions will be delivered.

For now, companies bidding for public contracts need not disclose their campaign spending; activists say this creates a corrupt pay-to-play system in which money from government contracts can secretly be used to re-elect those who award the deals. With an executive order, Obama could force contractors to disclose their spending so citizens can see which elected officials get the most contributions from them.

Thursday was picked for the national event because it’s the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, which increased the flow of money from corporations, unions and the wealthy into politics.
Activists will gather at from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at South Main Street and Olympic Blvd. in Walnut Creek with signs, music, petitions and information sheets.

In Berkeley, activists will have a table on the University of California’s Sproul Plaza near Sather Gate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with en masse photos – featuring a large prop flashlight to “shine the light on political corruption – at noon and 2 p.m.

Posted on Monday, March 30th, 2015
Under: campaign finance | 3 Comments »

Bay Area House members out and about Friday

Bay Area House members have a bunch of events planned for Friday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will take part in a discussion with employers of the benefits of hiring trained ex-convicts at 9 a.m. Friday in the student lounge in Building R of Merritt College, 12500 Campus Dr. in Oakland. Others expected to take part include California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard; California Prison Industry Authority General Manager Charles Pattillo; Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle; Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles; and PWC Development President Prophet Walker, himself a former offender.

Mark DeSaulnierReps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Sarbanes, D-Md., will take part in a roundtable discussion on the problem of big money in politics, at 11 a.m. Friday in Blum Hall B100 at UC-Berkeley. The event, hosted by the California Public Interest Research Group, will address local and federal efforts to curb big money’s influence by amplifying small donors’ voices, as well as the recent push for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter, the Berkeley Forum and others also will take part.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will hold a forum to update the community about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration at 4 p.m. Friday at the School of Arts and Culture in Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave. in San Jose. The event also offers eligibility workshops to prepare families to apply for relief from deportation pending availability of applications this year. Lofgren, Lofgren, the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will be joined by Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez, D-Ill.; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; Santa Clara County supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez; and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.

Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Barbara Lee, California State Senate, campaign finance, Immigration, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Loni Hancock, Mark DeSaulnier, Nora Campos, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 2 Comments »

Police-community relations hearing set for Tuesday

The state Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees will hold a four-and-a-half-hour joint hearing Tuesday on police-community relations issues that have roiled California and the nation in recent months.

It’s been a hot topic since police shootings including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August and Tamir Rice in Cleveland last November, and the tremendous protests that followed in cities across the nation. Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have grappled with tremendous street demonstrations in which most participants were peaceful while a few resorted to property damage and violence.

“Recent tragic events have led to an increased focus on law enforcement practices. The President has put together a task-force to tackle the issue of police practices across the nation, but I am interested in what we can do in California,” said Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “I look forward to hearing about what data is being collected and how our data collection efforts can be improved. I additionally look forward to learning about innovative programs that have improved relations between the community and law enforcement.”

Hancock’s husband, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, has taken some heat from the community for his police department’s handling of protests late last year.

The hearing’s agenda includes segments on statewide and local law enforcement data collection; “promoting trust and confidence through data;” investigating and prosecuting officer-misconduct allegations; and building trust and confidence between police and the communities they serve. The witness list includes law enforcement officials, community leaders, educators and criminologists from around the state.

Bill Quirk“I believe that this hearing will give us an opportunity to ask hard questions, gain new perspective, and guide us in proposing effective solutions to rebuilding trust,” said Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4203 of the State Capitol; it’s expected to be broadcast live on the California Channel and audio of the proceedings will be streamed on the State Senate’s website.

Posted on Monday, February 9th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Bill Quirk, California State Senate, Civil liberties, Loni Hancock, Public safety | 2 Comments »

Citizens United anniversary brings protests

Activists are taking to the streets Wednesday in the Bay Area and across the nation to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has let an unprecedented flood of money wash across the face of American politics.

money in politicsIn Berkeley, the California Public Interest Research Group, local officials, students and residents gathered Wednesday morning on Cal’s Sproul Plaza. “Five years ago today, the Supreme Court went way off track, and gave mega-donors and corporate interests free rein to drown out the voices of the majority,” said Zach Weinstein of CALPIRG. “But we’re here today because the decision also sparked a movement of Americans working to take back our democracy, city-by-city and state-by-state.”

“We must stop the influx of big money in our democracy by passing an amendment to our constitution to stop corporations from being defined as people and money as speech; enacting disclosure laws, campaign finance contribution limits and publicly funded campaigns,” said Helen Grieco of Common Cause.

In San Francisco, activists are organizing a “Mourning in America” march starting at 3:30 p.m. from Market and Montgomery streets to the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Ave. for a 4:30 p.m. rally. The march, to “call for a reversal of corrupt campaign finance system that favors wealthy special interests over the public interest,” will be led by hip-hop artist Khafre Jay, effigies of the five Supreme Court Justices who were in the majority on Citizens United, a live band, and a coffin containing Uncle Sam; marchers are encouraged to wear black, and black armbands will be handed out.

Those scheduled to speak at the rally include former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin; good-government expert and former Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman; and others. Endorsers and organizers include the Money Out! People In! Coalition, 99Rise, CA Nurses Association, Common Cause, Courage Campaign, California Clean Money Campaign, Free Speech for People, Money Out Voters In (MOVI), MoveOn Councils, Move to Amend, Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center, Public Citizen, Represent.us, San Francisco Labor Council AFL-CIO, Solar Justice, and the Sunflower Alliance.

99RiseIn Washington, D.C., seven 99Riseactivists disrupted Wednesday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court session. Each stood up and demanded that the court overturn Citizens United, before raising his or her index finger in the air – a gesture meant to represent the “one person, one vote” principle that they say the ruling undermined.

“We have seen the consequences of the free flow of private money rushing into our public political system,” activist Curt Ries said. “Nearly $4 billion was spent in the 2014 midterm elections, and almost all of it came from a handful of wealthy individuals and organizations. The kind of influence that money buys fundamentally corrupts our electoral process by giving undue representation to wealthy donors and corporations. That’s not a democracy, it’s a plutocracy.”

Posted on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Under: campaign finance | 3 Comments »

Your International Human Rights Day review

Hey, it’s International Human Rights Day!

The date was set by the United Nations in 1950 “to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Nice! Let’s take a celebratory scan of some of today’s top stories!

“All senior U.S. officials and CIA agents who authorized and carried out torture like waterboarding as part of former President George W. Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, top U.N. human rights officials said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

Ah. Well, at least we can be sure ordinary people’s voices are heard by lawmakers come election time.

“The $1.1 trillion spending agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday night would vastly expand the amount of money that donors can give political parties, bolstering party leaders’ ability to tap into the wallets of their largest contributors and reclaiming some clout from the outside groups that can accept unlimited dollars,” the New York Times reports.

OK, maybe we should look a little closer to home.

“For the third time in four nights, mayhem defined a protest march from Berkeley to Oakland, as demonstrators took over a freeway, looted businesses and threw objects at police, authorities said,” our own Bay Area News Group reports. “The demonstrations were part of an ongoing national movement against police violence, spurred by grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York after the deaths of two unarmed black men.”

Yeeeesh. Well, at least there’s some progress elsewhere on protecting that most basic of human rights – life itself.

“The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still ‘running ahead’ of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said,” the BBC reports.

I give up.

I surrender

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Under: campaign finance, Civil liberties, War on Terror | 1 Comment »

Brown names Bay Area lawyer as Cal/OSHA chief

Gov. Jerry Brown has named a Bay Area attorney with a background in organized labor as the permanent chief at Cal/OSHA, the Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Juliann SumJuliann Sum, 58, of Berkeley, has served as acting chief since September 2013 at the agency tasked with watchdogging California workers’ health and safety through its research and standards, enforcement, and consultation programs.

Sum was special advisor to the director at the California Department of Industrial Relations from 2012 to 2013 and held several positions at the University of California, Berkeley from 1994 to 2012, including project director at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and attorney and industrial hygienist at the Labor Occupational Health Program.

She was an associate attorney at the Environmental Law Foundation from 1994 to 1995; a litigation associate at Carroll, Burdick and McDonough LLP from 1991 to 1994; and an industrial hygienist and business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 from 1979 to 1986.

Sum holds a law degree from the UC-Hastings College of the Law and a Master of Science degree in environmental health sciences from the Harvard University School of Public Health.

This position requires Senate confirmation and the annual salary is $139,092. Sum is a Democrat.

Posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

A few upcoming political events

Political junkies have some great opportunities coming up.

On Monday, Oct. 6, Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez, D-Los Angeles, will speak on “changes in the California electorate and the road to a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature” in the Institute of Governmental Studies Library, 109 Moses Hall on the UC-Berkeley campus. The event starts at 4 p.m.

On Tuesday, Oct. 7, activist, blogger and author Pamela Geller will address the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley in the IFES Portuguese Hall, at 432 Stierlin Road in Mountain View. Geller is founder, editor and publisher of AtlasShrugs.com/PamGeller.com; president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America; and author, with Robert Spencer, of “The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America.” Tickets for the 7 p.m. event cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door for forum members, and $20 in advance or $25 at the door for non-members, and are available online.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., will be in conversation with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg for a 3 p.m. program and 4 p.m. book-signing at the Commonwealth Club of California, on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Gillibrand will discuss “why it’s critical for women’s voices to be heard to make issues like affordable daycare, paid family leave and equal pay political priorities.” Tickets cost $10 for club members, $15 for non-members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online or by calling 415-597-6705.

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2014
Under: Calendar | 3 Comments »

Supporters rally for ‘gun restraining order’ bill

Advocates of a bill that would create a “gun violence restraining order” system are stepping up their efforts in advance of a state Senate floor vote later this month.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, along with several Bay Area police chiefs and gun control advocates, rallied Monday morning outside the Emeryville Police Department in support of AB 1014. Skinner and Santa Barbara Democrats Assemblyman Das Williams and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson announced the bill soon after a May rampage at UC-Santa Barbara left six students dead.

“When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs, but almost nothing can now be done to get guns out of the hands of someone in crisis,” Skinner said in a news release Monday. “Parents, like the mother who tried to intervene, deserve an effective tool to help prevent these tragedies.”

Modeled on domestic violence laws, AB 1014 creates a process to intervene and potentially prohibit the purchase of firearms and/or remove firearms already in possession by a person who shows warning signs of a risk of violence. Law enforcement or family members would have the right to ask a judge to grant an order prohibiting firearms purchase or possession. Connecticut, Indiana and Texas have similar laws, Skinner’s office said.

Current law lets that process start only when therapists notify police that a client is at risk of committing a violent act. Family members can call police, but if no crime has been committed, or the individual doesn’t meet criteria for an involuntary civil commitment to mental health treatment, there isn’t anything police can do about that person’s firearms.

“AB 1014 fills an important gap in the law that prevents law enforcement from acting to prevent violence before it happens,” Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, a longtime gun-control advocate, said in Skinner’s news release. “This need has been obvious to law enforcement for years. But the time to act is now. The tragedy in Santa Barbara makes that obvious.”

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 5-2 vote June 24, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it Friday on a 5-0 vote with two Republicans not voting.

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Nancy Skinner | 9 Comments »

‘Gun violence restraining order’ bill proposed

Lawmakers reacted to the Santa Barbara shooting by announcing plans Tuesday for a bill to create a “gun violence restraining order.”

The bill would establish a system in which concerned relatives, intimate partners or friends can notify police about someone showing a propensity toward violence, so police can investigate and seek a judge’s order to seize that person’s firearms and prevent any purchases.

Current law lets that process start only when therapists notify police that a client is at risk of committing a violent act. Family members can call police, but if no crime has been committed and the individual doesn’t meet criteria for an involuntary civil commitment to mental health treatment, there isn’t anything police can do about that person’s firearms.

“When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs,” Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said in a news release. “Parents, like the mother who tried to intervene, deserve an effective tool they can act on to help prevent these tragedies.”

Skinner will co-author the bill with Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, and state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. “The tragic incident in my hometown of Isla Vista is not a result of gun laws failing,” Williams said. “Rather, it is a horrific example of how our mental health laws and gun control laws are not working together.”

Also, state Senate Democrats will present a package of mental health policy and budget proposals Wednesday in Sacramento “to address mental healthcare within California’s criminal justice system, recidivism and public safety,” according to a release from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s office. “The package includes a proposal to strengthen and apply statewide protocols to help frontline law enforcement identify signs of mental illness.”

Posted on Tuesday, May 27th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Nancy Skinner | 4 Comments »