Farmworkers to march, mental health workers to strike
Workers across California are taking to the streets.
Today, the United Farm Workers union is set to embark on a 24-day, 335-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign a bill that would permit farmworkers to vote from home in union elections. Farmworkers and their supporters are set to arrive at the state Capitol on Aug. 26, a few days before the legislative session draws to a close.
The “March for the Governor’s Signature” comes about a year after Newsom vetoed a similar bill, prompting infuriated farmworkers to march to the French Laundry, the luxurious Napa County restaurant where Newsom was caught in the early days of the pandemic dining maskless with lobbyists.
The governor’s relationship with farmworkers has since endured further strains: In March, Newsom angered union members by embarking on a family trip to Central and South America right before César Chávez Day, when farmworker leaders had requested to meet with him to discuss this year’s version of the vote-by-mail bill. Frustrated farmworkers ended up holding rallies in 13 cities across the state.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who as an Assemblymember authored the bill Newsom vetoed, said she plans to join the march near Stockton. Gonzalez Fletcher last week assumed leadership of the California Labor Federation, bringing the United Farm Workers with her. The farmworker vote-by-mail bill is a priority piece of legislation for the powerful alliance of unions.
- Assemblymember Mark Stone, the Santa Cruz Democrat carrying this year’s bill, told the Fresno Bee that supporters “don’t yet have an agreement with the governor’s office,” but he’s “very hopeful” it will pass.
Meanwhile, a union representing 2,000 Kaiser Northern California mental health workers announced plans Tuesday for an open-ended strike beginning Aug. 15, citing unsustainable workloads and patients waiting weeks or even months to access care, CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener reports.
The union also alleges that Kaiser is at risk of running afoul of a state law that went into effect July 1 requiring patients to receive follow-up mental health care within 10 business days unless a provider determines a longer wait won’t be detrimental.
Separately, California health authorities in May launched an investigation into whether Kaiser is providing adequate and timely mental health coverage to its more than 9 million enrollees.
- Sarah Soroken, who has worked at a therapist at Kaiser Fairfield for six years: “Right now we’re at a crisis point. Things are worse than ever.”
- Deb Catsavas, a senior vice president at Kaiser Permanente: The threat of a strike is “sadly, a bargaining tactic this union has used every time it has bargained a new contract.” She added that Kaiser is “committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable agreement that is good for our therapists and our patients.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,983,370 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 92,889 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Water savings improve, but not enough
Californians living in urban areas slashed their water use by 7.6% in June compared to the same period two years ago, according to figures released Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board — a slight improvement from the 7.5% drop Newsom administration officials reported last week based on preliminary reports from water systems serving 95% of the population. The final report shows that every region of the state saw a decline in water use compared to 2020, ranging from a 4.2% decline in the Colorado River region in the southeast part of the state to a 12.6% decrease in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- The water board said in a statement: “During the hot and dry summer, water use typically increases substantially because plants are thirstier. So, the fact that we saw more water savings in June suggests that aggressive actions taken by the state and by local suppliers are taking hold.” But, the board added, “We need to make up for lost ground from past months to meet the 15% statewide conservation goal” set by Newsom last July.
- Indeed, from July 2021 to June 2022, Californians slashed their water use by just 2.7% relative to 2020 levels, water board data shows.
- Meanwhile, California water prices are at an all-time high, Bloomberg reports.
Other environmental news you should know:
- The death toll has risen to four in the zone of the giant McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County. The blaze has chewed through more than 56,000 acres since igniting last Friday and remained 0% contained as of late Tuesday morning, according to state fire officials. Nearby, a cluster of smaller wildfires have merged to form the Yeti Complex Fire.
- Attorney General Rob Bonta and 16 other attorneys general urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a Tuesday letter to grant “in full and as soon as possible” California’s application for waivers that would allow the Golden State to set environmental standards for heavy-duty trucks stronger than those at the federal level, a move Bonta described as a matter of “life or death … for communities breathing dirty, toxic air.” The EPA is considering partially denying waivers to California for two heavy-duty truck regulations, according to E&E News.
- State water officials voted to waive fines through 2023 for some water pollution caused by a gas-fired power plant in Redondo Beach, which was originally set to close in 2020, the Associated Press reports. Originally slated to close in 2020, state regulators extended the plant’s operating life — along with those of three others — in an effort to keep the lights on after a series of rolling blackouts that summer.
2 Whither California crime statistics?
We know that homicides in California jumped 31% in 2020, but what about in 2021? Those statistics haven’t yet been released, breaking the state attorney general’s pattern from 2015 to 2021 of publishing reports in early July on the prior year’s crime data, according to a Monday letter Republican Assemblymember Tom Lackey of Palmdale sent Attorney General Bonta. “Legislators, researchers, local agencies and our constituents rely on this data to make informed policy decisions about crime and public safety in California,” Lackey wrote. “With only one month left in the legislative session, it is imperative that we are able to account for the latest trends in crime and public safety as we consider significant reforms to the criminal justice system.”
- Asked when Bonta’s office plans to release the 2021 crime report, a spokesperson told me in an email “we’re working to get the reports out as quickly as possible.” The spokesperson added that the office is helping law enforcement agencies secure approval for upgraded record management systems so they can submit crime data into a new federal database, and “this ongoing transition has impacted the collection of data and release of the annual crime reports this year.” The spokesperson said the state’s own system was certified by the FBI earlier this year.
- Meanwhile, the Department of Justice’s public online data portal is still offline more than a month after it briefly published the personal identifying information of more than 240,000 concealed carry weapon license applicants. “We are working to bring the site back online as soon as possible,” the spokesperson wrote. “At this moment, we do not have an update on timing as to when (the portal) will be back online.” Bonta’s office is conducting an internal investigation into the data release, and Republican lawmakers have also called for an independent state audit.
3 A busy day in LA
Tuesday was quite a big day for the residents of Los Angeles County, home to about 25% of California’s population:
- The county declared a local state of emergency in response to the monkeypox outbreak, a move that came a day after Newsom declared one for the state of California and a few days after Mayor London Breed proclaimed one for the city of San Francisco. Health officers also announced that a child in Long Beach has contracted monkeypox. (San Diego County also declared a local monkeypox state of emergency Tuesday.)
- The county Board of Supervisors placed a measure on the county’s November ballot that, if approved by voters, would allow the board to remove an elected sheriff from office. The supervisors have repeatedly sparred with Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a Democrat turned tough-on-crime conservative enmeshed in numerous corruption scandals in his department. Villanueva is seeking reelection and will face off against former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in November.
- The Los Angeles City Council voted during a heated meeting to prohibit homeless people from camping within 500 feet of schools and day care centers. The meeting at one point became so raucous that Council President Nury Martinez stopped it for more than an hour so police could clear protesters from the room, according to the Los Angeles Times. A second vote on the measure is required next week.
- And Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it’s unwinding some of its COVID safety protocols ahead of the new school year starting Aug. 15: Students will not have to test before returning to campus, and the district is ending its weekly universal testing program. And, in alignment with the state, face masks are voluntary and students won’t face a COVID vaccine mandate until July 1, 2023 at the earliest.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s lawyer lobby is trying to prevent the State Bar from exploring alternative services to help residents access legal advice.
Why prior authorization is good for patients and pocketbooks: The process exists not to deny needed health care, but to ensure evidence-based care and avoid costly out-of-pocket medical bills, medical complications and subsequent procedures, argues Dr. Adam Solomon, chief medical officer for the MemorialCare Medical Foundation.
Other things worth your time
Vin Scully, forever the voice of the Dodgers, dead at 94. / Los Angeles Times
Pelosi’s Taiwan trip spurs new military activity in the Pacific. // The Hill
Anthony Rendon intends to stay on as California Assembly Speaker. // KCRA
S.F. school member Ann Hsu joins unanimous vote for her own admonishment. // San Francisco Standard
California’s local governments could soon be more able to remove disruptive meeting attendees. // Sacramento Bee
San Clemente City Council to consider banning abortions within city limits. // Voice of OC
Family of California shooting victims sue gun distributor. // KPBS
New batch of CSU records shows professors disciplined for sexual harassment. // EdSource
SDSU opens own inquiry into alleged gang rape by football players, 9 months later. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Judge bars Sacramento from clearing homeless tent encampments until Aug. 25 at earliest. // Sacramento Bee
Biden, Harris back Karen Bass in Los Angeles mayoral race. // Los Angeles Times
Gavin Newsom’s fundraising edge is due to wealthy Bay Area donors. // San Francisco Chronicle
A California union president sent $25 gift cards to members. An uproar and reprimand followed. // Sacramento Bee
Failure to disclose evidence in murder case led to full review of D.A. Brooke Jenkins’ work under Chesa Boudin. // San Francisco Standard
Kingston got big fines alleging improper transfers, then left behind needles, meds. // Bakersfield Californian
California regulators sue Mercury Insurance, alleging it overcharged drivers, homeowners. // Sacramento Bee
Rent-A-Center settles alleged California overpricing dispute. // Associated Press
Californians with criminal records still face housing barriers. // Los Angeles Times
Sellers beginning to make concessions as Bay Area home prices drop. // Mercury News
Court blocks huge Lake Tahoe ski development at Olympic Valley. // San Francisco Chronicle
Demand for workers fell in June to lowest level in 9 months. // Wall Street Journal
A man rode BART for 7 hours. He was declared dead at the end of the line. // San Francisco Chronicle
Burglars ransack 7 businesses in Oakland’s Little Saigon during 90-minute raid. // San Francisco Chronicle
6th Street bridge: A civic wonder that reflects L.A.’s promise and its simmering problems. // Los Angeles Times
State can seek environmental safeguards for Oroville Dam beyond federal regulations, California Supreme Court rules. // San Francisco Chronicle
Toxic algae in Northern California’s Clear Lake corrupting drinking water and causing ‘horrendous’ smells. // San Francisco Chronicle