Widespread strikes descend on California
It’s strike season in California, again.
Today, fast food workers across the state are set to picket outside of Starbucks, Chipotle, Jack in the Box and other restaurants to protest the companies’ efforts to qualify a 2024 referendum to overturn a new state law. The first-in-the-nation law, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed on Labor Day, would create a state council to regulate fast food industry working conditions and push the minimum wage to as much as $22 per hour next year.
Meanwhile, 48,000 University of California academic workers — who conduct much of the teaching, grading and research at the nation’s premier public university system — are prepared to begin their second straight day of strikes at all 10 UC campuses to demand significantly higher wages to help cover sky-high housing costs, improved child care subsidies, enhanced health coverage and other benefits.
The widespread walkout of teaching assistants, postdocs, graduate student researchers and other employees has already prompted class cancellations and forced labs to close or scale back their research — not long before the start of final exams.
The UC strikes have attracted the attention of some of the state’s most powerful leaders: 33 state lawmakers sent a letter to UC President Michael Drake urging him to “avert strikes by ceasing to commit unfair labor practices and begin bargaining in good faith” with the four United Auto Workers unions representing the academic employees. The UC Regents are set to meet Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco.
- The lawmakers, led by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat and chairperson of his chamber’s labor and employment committee: “As one of California’s largest employers, the UC has not only the opportunity but also the obligation to be a leader in setting industry standards for academia, thus leading the way for other public employers. … By failing to do so, UC is risking mass disruption and losing the talent that has earned UC its prestigious reputation.”
- UC said in an online statement that it “strongly disagrees” with allegations that it has committed unfair labor practices, adding, “Throughout the negotiations, UC has listened carefully to the union’s concerns and bargained in good faith,” including by making offers that are “generous, responsive to union priorities, and recognize the many valuable contributions of these employees.”
The fearsome California Labor Federation, led by former state lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, also threw the weight of its 1,200 unions behind the UC workers by granting a statewide strike sanction that allows its 2 million members to honor picket lines. Other labor groups, including local Teamsters unions representing UPS employees, did the same — which could limit deliveries to UC campuses during the strike.
CalMatters’ College Journalism Network fellow Megan Tagami spoke with some of the hundreds of protesters — including undergraduate students and faculty members supporting the academic workers — at UCLA on Monday.
Aya Konishi, a doctoral student in the sociology department, said she regularly commutes two hours round-trip between West Hollywood and Westwood because her current salary prevents her from living closer to campus. Even so, she said, half of her $2,400 monthly salary still goes toward rent.
- Konishi: “For many of us, more than 30% of our paycheck every month goes towards rent. And that’s a very huge issue that I think applies to many, many people in our union.”
And more strikes are headed UC’s way: On Wednesday, unionized resident physicians and fellows at UCLA, UC Davis and UC San Francisco hospitals are set to hold a “unity break” to call for improved pay and benefits. “Despite serving on the frontlines of the state’s largest healthcare system, residents at UCLA are overworked and underpaid, while often carrying over $200,000 on average in student loan debt,” according to the Committee of Interns and Residents, part of the Services Employees International Union.
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1 State gets help in fight against wage theft
California is notoriously short on agents to enforce the state’s tougher-than-most labor laws, but it has the help of influential allies: worker centers. Ten of these nonprofit community hubs that advocate for low-wage workers — and seven other labor-friendly organizations — have partnered with the state to help identify and crack down on wage theft, or employers’ failure to pay workers what they’re owed. This collaborative strategy has resulted in some of the state’s largest employer citations for wage theft, CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo and Jeanne Kuang report in the latest installment of the California Divide team‘s series “Unpaid Wages: A Waiting Game.” It has also divided business groups.
- Jennifer Barrera, CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce: “The targeted model is the appropriate way for the labor commissioner to utilize their resources.”
- Tom Manzo, founder of the California Business and Industrial Alliance: It’s “a terrible idea” because the state’s partnership with the worker centers — which have explicitly pro-labor agendas — makes it cross the line from regulator to advocate.
Meanwhile, some of the multimillion-dollar citations have yet to be paid. In large wage theft cases, employers regularly appeal citations, setting off lengthy administrative hearing processes and appeals that can delay payments to workers by three to five years. Still, some advocates say the cases can bring about important workplace and industry changes.
- Shaw San Liu, executive director of worker center the Chinese Progressive Association: “The money you get from the settlement, that’s not going to last forever. But a job where you can feel like you have a little bit more dignity, and … you can get home in time to see your kids because you’re no longer being forced to work overtime without overtime pay — that lasts.”
2 California election updates
Republicans were on the cusp Monday night of seizing control of the U.S. House of Representatives, with 217 of the 218 seats needed and 13 races still undecided — including 10 in California. The Associated Press called two key contests, the 41st District for Republican incumbent Ken Calvert and the 45th District for GOP Rep. Michelle Steel. Nearly 3.8 million ballots in California have yet to be processed, according to Secretary of State Shirley Weber.
Here’s a look at other key California election updates:
- Gov. Gavin Newsom was easily reelected to a second term, but now comes the hard part: actually implementing the ambitious policies he enacted in his first term, and counteracting national Republicans’ image of California as a failed Democratic state packed with homeless encampments and open-air drug markets. “We need to get our act in order on homelessness, clean up the streets,” Newsom told the Los Angeles Times. “Those are vulnerabilities for our party, for our state and I think for democracy because Democrats have to prove themselves at a different level now in terms of performance.” As if to highlight the practical benefits of policies in Democratic-led states, Newsom published a Monday commentary in Fortune magazine extolling the financial impacts of environmental, social and governance investing. Newsom said some red states such as Florida have outlawed ESG investing, “sacrificing financial gains and economic growth for politics” and hurting “taxpayers and their pensions.”
- In the fierce fight for Los Angeles mayor, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass widened her lead over billionaire businessman Rick Caruso. As of Monday, Bass had 52.2% of the vote, compared to Caruso’s 47.8%.
- Voters elected to keep in office San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, the tougher-on-crime prosecutor Mayor London Breed appointed to replace Chesa Boudin after he was recalled in June. San Francisco voters also appear poised to approve a tax on the owners of multifamily buildings with units sitting vacant for more than six months.
- Sacramento voters likely approved a controversial ballot measure that would force the city to clear more homeless encampments and expand shelter capacity, but the practical effect will be negligible until the city and county sign a binding agreement outlining their respective roles in addressing the homelessness crisis.
- Voters in four Bay Area cities approved new business taxes on big employers. City leaders in Oakland, Santa Clara, Palo Alto and Los Gatos told the Mercury News that a key success factor was negotiating the measures with business groups, thus heading off any potential opposition campaigns.
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
3 State reports first child death from flu, RSV
State public health officials reported Monday the season’s first death of a child under 5 from flu and respiratory syncytial virus, which poses particular risk to infants and seniors. “This tragic event serves as a stark reminder that respiratory viruses can be deadly, especially in very young children and infants,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state’s public health officer, said in a statement. “We are entering a busy winter virus season — with RSV, flu and COVID-19 spreading — and urge parents and guardians to vaccinate their children as soon as possible against flu and COVID-19.” There is no vaccine for RSV.
The pediatric death comes amid an early-season surge in respiratory illnesses that has forced some hospitals to set up overflow tents in their parking lots to deal with the influx of patients. California is also the first state on the West Coast to report a high level of influenza circulation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The California Department of Public Health unveiled new guidance Friday that allows health facilities to reconfigure their space to deal with an uptick in patients with respiratory illnesses. It also urged facilities without existing pediatric services to explore short-term measures to evaluate and treat those patients.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As California’s water crisis worsens, seawater desalination is getting a new look as a critical supply source.
Last-minute attempt to change COVID workplace rules is a mistake: When adopting difficult workplace policies, regulators should notify the public and involve stakeholders. But Cal/OSHA is trying to squeeze in a significant change to California’s COVID rules with little time for input, argues John Duncan, a former director of the California Department of Industrial Relations.
The importance of California’s investment in street vendors: The state simplified the recipe for economic success for its most overlooked entrepreneurs, and deserves credit for allowing them to get cooking, writes Carolina Martinez, CEO of CAMEO, a California micro-business network.
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