As Executive Director of this diverse Labor Council I will not be going out on a limb to say it was the most convivial meeting of the year. In my 10 years working for the Council this is the first time we met outside a boardroom.
We conducted our official business in an efficient manner. We argued about a few bills and then 30 affiliate leaders and Labor Council staff broke bread, grabbed a glass of wine and decided that in a crazy year where political and union disputes were sometimes impediments to full unity, in San Francisco we could still look each other in the eye and feel in our gut that every one of us was committed to not only fighting for our members but for all workers.
Without making official reports, leaders talked about their campaigns and imminent fights.
Unite-Here Local 2 announced their strike at San Francisco International Airport for job security and health care; Teachers talked about their fight to save City College; Building Trades leaders talked about their new PLA’s and the fight at the Housing Authority; UESF teachers announced their 12 ½ % contract settlement. Sign and Display 510 and IATSE 16 reminded us of their prevailing wage legislation.
We talked about the “Formula Retail Workers Bill of Rights,” which passed unanimously at the Board of Supervisors just a few days ago – led by Supervisors Eric Mar and David Chiu – which mandates 14 days of predictable scheduling and rights to more hours for part time workers. An incredible, often unwieldy, coalition fought for these rights with the UFCW and I will be writing more about this historic campaign in a subsequent article.
ILWU warehouse workers announced their organizing and bargaining victories for recycling workers; Teamsters commented on their food processing organizing in the San Joaquin Valley and the ongoing Edgewood private school organizing in the Sunset District; OPEIU reminded us about the ongoing work in Bayview-Hunters Point where, among other programs, some of our 10,000 union members who live in the district are taking City College classes to understand and help implement our historic Community Benefits Agreement. Another OPEIU board member talked about American union unity with Mexican workers over the murder and disappearance of teaching students in the southern state of Guerrero.
We’re still only into our salads and chowder!
Nurses reminded us of their organizing victory at the California Pacific Medical Center (Sutter) where over 1,000 nurses voted to join the union. Firefighters mentioned their fight with management and their outrage over the lack of full ambulance staffing and infrastructure in the City. SEIU USWW thanked us for coming to rallies and civil disobedience actions at Apple and Google facilities for security officers and described how Google now recognizes the union.
We toasted the re-appointment of Larry Mazzola to the Airport Commission and were reminded how many of us attended the Labor Council meeting with Mayor Lee to make sure that happened.
We are proud to be part of the Coalition for a Fair Economy (CFE) that reached the historic agreement with the Mayor, Supervisor Jane Kim and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that put a consensus minimum wage measure on the November ballot that gets all workers to $15 with the cleanest non-exemption path in the United States.
San Franciscans passed Measure J by 77%. This was more than just an agreement to get $15 on the ballot, but also changed the culture of how labor unions and community organizations can fight together for equity, fair wages, and a voice at work. Organizations involved in the coalition were UNITE-HERE Local 2, SEIU Local 1021, the California Nurses Association, the San Francisco branch of ACCE, Jobs with Justice, Young Workers United, the Chinese Progressive Association, Progressive Workers Alliance and SF Rising (the last two are worker of color & LGBT coalitions of 9 community organizations).
As with the Formula Retail Workers Bill of Rights coalition, the CFE coalition will also advocate for full enforcement. Years ago, working with the Building Trades Council, we helped the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement to monitor and enforce all our worker laws (sick days, living wage, etc.) and we will continue to fight for resources to empower this valuable department.
Scoma’s union servers were passing out the crab cakes and salad when we revisited a long simmering loophole in the 2006 San Francisco’s landmark universal healthcare law, the closest thing the United States has to universal health care with the public option, which required employers to make minimum expenditures towards their employees’ healthcare for each hour worked. (This was the model legislation that our legislative leader Nancy Pelosi used as a template for moving the Affordable Care Act as far as the Congress was able before the United States Senate riddled it with compromises.)
Since the law’s passage, a minority of San Francisco employers have avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in required spending by exploiting an unintended loophole. In 2013 alone over $90 million dedicated to employees was not used to meet workers’ healthcare needs and was, instead, clawed back by employers.
We finally closed that loophole thanks to the leadership of Supervisor David Campos, five other co-sponsors, and the thoughtful coalition of Supervisors London Breed and Mark Farrell. The crux of the legislation was to make the employer spending requirement irrevocable, meaning employers will not receive credit for having met the spending requirement if they reclaim unused money.
The incredible research and policy team guiding this campaign was led by Ken Jacobs from the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education; Paul Kumar, Health Care Consultant to the San Francisco Labor Council; and Ian Lewis, Research Director for Unite-Here Local 2. The full coalition included the San Francisco Labor Council, Unite–Here Local 2, SEIU 1021, OPEIU 3, California Nurses Association, Young Workers United, NUHW, Health Access, Chinese Progressive Association, Jobs with Justice, ACCE, and the San Francisco Organizing Project (PICO), with support from many other community and labor partners.
Here is the San Francisco Chronicle article that outlines these legislative victories.
Another labor achievement this year culminated with the Board of Supervisors passing an ordinance to require large hospitality industry employers to retain employees for up to 90 days upon a change in control of the hospitality establishment. This was passed without objection by all 11 supervisors. This legislation built upon an ordinance that was passed over 10 years ago to keep worker stability in the commercial real estate industry where building owners, upon changing janitorial and security officer companies, were required to keep the previous company’s employees for 90 days and not create instability, job turnover, and job insecurity for dedicated workers in service sector jobs who had no say in the building owners business decisions to change contractors.
This will ensure much-needed stability to key segments of the hospitality industry, one of San Francisco’s most important bases of employment.
We remembered and complained about the devastating losses in the U.S. Senate and governorships this November (Wisconsin – how could you?!), while California still elected all labor candidates to the constitutional offices and added one more Democrat to Congress.
Even Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who was attacked with millions of dollars from “privatizer” school “reformers,” won with his biggest margin (70%) in San Francisco because of our political outreach this November.
One big toast was given to President Obama who finally!! acted with an executive order on immigration policy. Millions will not be living in the shadows anymore. San Francisco and the Bay Area Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform never stopped fighting and advocating for reform for our members and all workers. We went to DC; we fasted; we marched; we lobbied; we got arrested. And we will still not stop until there is true immigration reform.
Again, victories like these are rare in the new climate of national Tea Party anger and corporate attacks on immigrants and unions. We should applaud when the American Dream is advanced in our communities with policies to help workers stay in their homes by getting a raise, keeping their jobs, and achieving healthcare coverage. We in the Labor Movement are proud of our collective bargaining agreements that provide workers with a voice at work. We are also proud that we are now expanding collective bargaining in the legislative and political arena for all workers.
Nationally the rich are still getting richer and hoarding their profits and earnings while wages stagnate and health care costs continue to rise – but here in San Francisco the Labor Council can still look at 2014 and be proud of standing up for and winning many battles for workers.
I am grateful to our wonder Labor Council staff: Financial Manager Hang Le To, Community Services Liaison Tom Ryan, sfCLOUT Organizer Conny Ford, Political Director Amber Parrish-Baur, and my Assistant and Labor Council Communications Director Emily Nelson.
Happy 2015! Keep up the good organizing!