When California’s public workers go on strike
While much of the attention of “hot labor summer” has been focused on workers in the private sector — such as hotel workers, delivery drivers and Hollywood screenwriters — employees in the public sector are also demanding better pay and working conditions.
On Tuesday, thousands of city workers across Los Angeles, including staff at LAX and Van Nuys airport, City Hall, animal shelters, public swimming pools and other facilities, walked off the job for a 24-hour strike, reports the Los Angeles Times.
- David Green, Service Employees International Union Local 721 president and executive director, to the L.A. Times: “People don’t understand the hard work they do. There’s a lot of unsung heroes in the city. So I think it’s important that the city, that we take a day to recognize that, and let the city know… they need to respect what we do as city employees.”
In San Jose, two of the city’s biggest unions, representing more than 4,000 city workers, have voted to authorize a three-day strike starting Aug. 15 after failing to reach an agreement with the city over wage increases, parental leave and other benefits, according to KQED. (City council members and union leaders are expected to meet today to renegotiate, however, reports San Jose Spotlight.)
There have been some efforts in the Legislature to expand strike rights for public workers. State Sen. Tom Umberg, a Democrat from Santa Ana, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would enshrine every worker’s right, including public sector employees, to join a union and negotiate with their employers “to protect their economic well-being and safety at work.”
Another measure, authored by Democratic Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes of San Bernardino, would protect public employees from disciplinary action if they join a sympathy strike, refuse to cross a picket line or refuse cover work for striking co-workers. The bill would also prohibit employers from including provisions that limit or waive these rights in union contracts.
The University of California, which opposes the bill, has contracts with a handful of unions that restrict members’ rights to join sympathy strikes and argues that the measure “would risk constant disruptions… and hinder their ability to serve the state.”
Reyes’ bill does include one important exception, however: public safety workers. Because workers such as firefighters and police officers can’t go on strike, their right to join sympathy strikes would not be protected under the bill.
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Other Stories You Should Know
1 Rematches in the Valley
Tight congressional races in the Central Valley played a big part in flipping control of the U.S. House to Republicans last year. In 2024, those districts could prove pivotal again — and rematches from 2022 could determine the outcome.
Besides bashing Duarte, Gray, a former state Assemblymember, pledges to put the Valley above party politics.
- Gray, in a video: “I know what independence looks like, and I know that party loyalists are bad for the Valley.”
Those victories helped the GOP narrow the gap in California’s U.S. House delegation to 40-12, from a 42-11 Democratic edge before last year’s election. And the Republican inroads made Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco hand the speaker’s gavel to Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.
Political pundits and elected officials are already predicting that California voters could decide whether Democrats retake control of the House. And those competitive districts are not just in the Valley, but also in Orange County (where Democrat Katie Porter is giving up her seat to run for U.S. Senate) and elsewhere.
2 Training school ‘lunch ladies’
Serving about 1 billion meals a year, California’s largest restaurant system isn’t McDonald’s, Starbucks or Subway — instead, it’s the public school system, which provides more meals annually than all three combined.
As CalMatters’ K-12 education reporter Carolyn Jones explains, since becoming the first state to offer universal meal programs to all public school students in 2022, California has made an effort to offer better options than frozen pizza. The $15 billion schools have received in state and federal funding have gone toward not only feeding nearly 6 million students, but also serving them healthier and fresher meals, upgrading school kitchens and training staff.
In San Luis Obispo County, for example, dozens of school cafeteria workers from two districts attended a two-day training session at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, one of the premier cooking schools in the country.
- Renee Williams, a food service worker at San Luis Coastal Unified: “I’m not really a cook. Before, we just defrosted stuff. This is all new and a little scary. But I want to learn.”
But expanding meal programs comes with big challenges. School food service workers typically earn less than fast food workers, so kitchens are often understaffed. Cooking facilities at schools aren’t usually big enough to process and cook hundreds of pounds of produce, and transporting food for preparation is expensive. And while all students are eligible for free meals, families are still required to submit paperwork for tracking and federal funding purposes — a process that can be “as complicated as the U.S. tax code,” one program leader told Carolyn.
Despite the hurdles, improving the quality of school meals appears to be popular with students.
- Alysa Oliver, a sophomore at Aptos High in Pajaro Unified: “The food used to come in little plastic packages that you’d warm up, and it had this condensed, sweaty feeling. Now we have this high-quality food that’s better for you, and it tastes better.”
Food insecurity and hunger: CalMatters has a detailed new explainer that explores a key conundrum for California: Why does a state that produces nearly half the country’s fruits and vegetables — and that spends so much on food aid — have so many residents still not getting all the food they need? The explainer looks at the history of food aid, what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, what solutions are being tried and much more. If you’re curious about this issue, read here.
3 Water board accused of discrimination
The San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are central to California’s water supply, providing water for 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland. With its importance, the watershed has also been the center of decades-long controversy over water quality, the health of endangered fish species and the livelihoods of the people who rely on them.
Now, it’s the focus of a federal environmental justice investigation into complaints by Native American tribes that the state water board has discriminated against them by failing to protect water quality, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.
The complaint before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleges that the State Water Board has allowed the “waterways to descend into ecological crisis, with the resulting environmental burdens falling most heavily on Native tribes and other communities of color.” In addition, the board “has intentionally excluded local Native Tribes and Black, Asian and Latino residents from participation in the policymaking process.”
- Gary Mulcahy, government liaison for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, in a statement: “It’s pretty bad when California Indians have to file a complaint with the Federal Government so that the State doesn’t violate our civil rights.”
Jackie Carpenter, a spokesperson for the water board, told Rachel that it will cooperate fully with the investigation and “believes U.S. EPA will ultimately conclude the board has acted appropriately.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Critics of California’s housing goals are turning to voters and lower population projections to undercut them.
CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: Mayor Bass sees migrants as people, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott uses them as pawns to make a cynical point on immigration.
CalMatters commentary has a new California Voices page with previous op-eds and columns, plus picks by editor Yousef Baig. Give it a look.
Other things worth your time
An absent Sen. Dianne Feinstein is honored at Lake Tahoe summit // Los Angeles Times
Can state lawmakers make social media safer for young people? // Los Angeles Times
Contract negotiations heat up for CA state worker unions // The Sacramento Bee
Risk, reward for Newsom if he tries to end Hollywood strikes // Los Angeles Times
As San Quentin prison vows to transform, inmates ask: Is change possible? // The Guardian
SF can allow noncitizen voting in school board races, court rules // San Francisco Chronicle
Appeals court upholds parcel taxes based on square footage with a ceiling // EdSource
1,000 People in jail as San Francisco ramps up drug arrests // The San Francisco Standard
LA supervisors propose $25 hourly wage for hotel, theme park workers // Los Angeles Times
Kaiser nurses raise concern over staffing as San Marcos hospital opens // KPBS
No charges filed in fight between Kevin de León and activist // Los Angeles Times
No appetite from San Diego City Council to revive desegregation measures // KPBS
Proposed law could rebuild SF communities destroyed by urban renewal // San Francisco Chronicle
‘Desperation’ in Alameda County eviction court after moratorium // Oaklandside