When California’s public workers go on strike

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La August 10, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

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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1 Rematches in the Valley

Assemblyman Adam Gray addresses the Assembly at the Capitol on May 26, 2020. The Assembly met as a “Committee of the Whole on the State Budget” to question Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration’s plan to fill an estimated $54.3 budget deficit created by the effects of the coronavirus. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo/Pool
Then-Assemblymember Adam Gray addresses the Assembly at the Capitol on May 26, 2020. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo/Pool

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.

Wednesday, Democrat Adam Gray announced that he’ll again take on Republican Rep. John Duarte, who won by 564 votes last November in the 13th District.

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.”

That follows Democrat Rudy Salas declaring he’ll try again to defeat Republican Rep. David Valadao, who prevailed by 3,132 votes in the 22nd District.

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.

Calendar reminder: Since it’s a presidential election year, California’s primary is March 5, which means that if you’re not registered to vote, the deadline (other than same-day) is Feb. 20.

2 Training school ‘lunch ladies’

As part of Farm to School, an initiative to provide healthier lunches in California schools, School food service workers at San Luis Coastal Unified School District, Teresa Vigil, left, and Maria Martínez, right, train at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa on Aug 3, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters
School food service workers at San Luis Coastal Unified School District train at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa on Aug 3, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters

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 Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta on June 22, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta on June 22, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

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 Commentary

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

Some stories may require a subscription to read

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

See you tomorrow


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