Coalition Building for May Day Demonstrations, Strikes
By Doug Porter
How do you defeat the will of the people if you’re Mayor Faulconer, looking to favor business interests in San Diego?
It’s simple. Make it nearly impossible to enforce an ordinance. Neglect the details. Divide up the enforcement by handing to multiple agencies unable or unwilling to act on behalf of complainants. This is happening today in America’s Finest City. And the victims are those who need legal protection the most.
After two years of obstruction and delays fomented by the Chamber of Commerce, San Diego voters overwhelmingly (63%) supported an increase in the minimum wage, along with access to earned sick leave in June 2016.
Recently City Councilwoman Barbara Bry asked the City Attorney for details on the enforcement of the City of San Diego Earned Sick Leave and Minimum Wage Ordinance.
Mara Elliott’s office responded by saying what activists have interpreted as the City is the sole government entity legally required to enforce the local minimum wage and is not currently doing so.
Mayor Faulconer’s office would like people to believe it fulfilled its obligations by publicly directing minimum wage and retaliation complaints to the California Labor Commission.
Earned sick leave issues, on the other hand, are supposed to be handled by a (misnamed entity) in the City Treasurer’s office.
The sole employee of living wage office recently resigned, and other vacancies concerned with enforcement remain unfilled eight months after the ordinance was passed.
Since there is no cooperative agreement on this matter in place between the City and State, taking a complaint to the Labor Commissioner is not really a solution.
According to the Labor Commission, they are unwilling to sign a cooperative agreement given that San Diego has no staff assigned to assist in enforcement.
So, if an employee believes their employer is violating the local ordinance for both the minimum wage and earned sick leave provisions, they are theoretically supposed to go to two different agencies.
And, given that there is nobody assigned to work on such complaints in either agency, if there are issues with retaliation, well, that’s just tough luck I suppose.
In a perfect world enforcing minimum wage laws would be a rare event. Sadly, that’s not the case. What San Diego needs is robust enforcement mechanism; fees and penalties could make this possible at little to no cost to taxpayers.
Currently, the city is theoretically only able to respond to complaints. If a complainant is lucky enough to win a case, they are also required to inform the appropriate agencies of any penalties owed.
A 2014 Department of Labor study found the following data concerning California:
- 372,000 weekly violations of minimum wage laws.
- Lost income to workers from the violations amounted to $1.2 billion annually.
- These violations contributed to 7,000 additional families, 15,800 individuals and 4,400 children being under the poverty line
- On an annual basis, minimum wage violations led to $167.1 million in lost payroll taxes, $74.0 million in lost federal income taxes and $14.4 million in lost state income taxes.
- Taxpayers were impacted thru $4.5 million in decreased Earned Income Tax Credits, $5.5 million in additional school breakfast programs, $10.1 million in additional school lunch programs, and $10.8 million in SNAP benefits.
A 2015 Center on Policy Initiatives study in San Diego County found more than three-quarters of restaurant employees surveyed had been victimized by wage theft on a regular basis.
Another 2015 study by the UCLA Labor Center and the National Employment Law Project found only 17% of employees who complained about wage violations ever collected payment.
Other cities have successfully established collaborative relationships with the State Labor Commissioner’s office. The San Francisco Office of Standards Enforcement has a track record of being able to collect 91% of wages and interest owed to workers.
By establishing partnerships and agreements with community-based organizations and government agencies (the City and District Attorneys come to mind) enforcement of existing law is possible. At present, San Diego workers do not know where to file a claim; the outreach by the city has been directed towards employers.
Of the $4.5 million in recovered wages in San Francisco during 2015, 85% came via violations identified by community organizations.
Organizations working with the Raise Up Now coalition have asked the City Council to step in and provide a plan for an entity with a full range of authority, resources to conduct investigations, and the ability to gather accurate information. An earlier request directed to the Mayor remains unanswered.
Local and National Implications
On Tuesday morning, April 4, Justice Can’t Wait and San Diego Fight for 15 are calling on people to join them at City Hall to mark the 49th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination by protesting the Mayor’s lack of willingness to enforce the will of the voters.
The San Diego action fits into a larger picture, as unions and racial justice organizations are building for nationwide protests on May 1st.
Promising to “go beyond moments of outrage, beyond narrow concepts of sanctuary, and beyond barriers between communities that have much at stake and so much in common,” more than fifty organizations including the Black Lives Matter Global Network, Mijente, Fight for $15, Indigenous Environmental Network, and others representing LGBTQ, refugees, immigrants, laborers and the poor have coalesced into an entity dubbing itself “The Majority.”
The “Beyond the Moment” initiative kicks off April 4 with “serious political education with our bases,” according to the website. In the weeks leading up to the mass mobilizations on May 1, they will hold public teach-ins and workshops nationwide. The desired outcome is a “broad intersectional, cross-sectoral” and influential unity on the left, activists said.
The idea for Beyond the Moment was derived from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, in which he spoke out against racism, materialism and militarism — all broader and more-inclusive themes than his earlier anti-Jim Crow campaigns. The coalition said it chose April 4 as the kickoff for political education because that is date that King delivered the speech in 1967 and the date on which he was assassinated a year later.
Although anti-Trumpism has been a unifying cause — protests in major U.S. cities have occurred almost weekly around the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, Standing Rock policies and transgender rights rollback — The Majority said it wants supporters to think beyond this president.
Immigrant justice organizations, including Movimiento Cosecha, or Harvest Movement, have spent months organizing across the country for Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes (A Day Without Immigrants) to win the “permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants.”
On the labor side of the equation, the SEIU United Service Workers West and the Food Chain Workers Alliance are saying 350,000 workers will walk off the job on May 1st.
A Day Without Immigrants
From Labor Notes:
Shop steward Tomas Mejia sensed something was different when 600 janitors streamed into the Los Angeles union hall February 16—far more than for a regular membership meeting. Chanting “Huelga! Huelga!” (“Strike! Strike!”), they voted unanimously to strike on May Day.
This won’t be a strike against their employers. The janitors of SEIU United Service Workers West felt driven, Mejia says, “to strike with the community” against the raids, threats, and immigrant-bashing hate speech that the Trump administration has unleashed…
…the strike is going on the road: SEIU-USWW is partnering with the human rights group Global Exchange, worker centers, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and faith groups to organize a “Caravan against Fear” that will tour California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in April, staging rallies, cultural events, direct action trainings, and community strike votes leading up to May Day.
Can the Institution Become a Movement?
It should be noted that many traditional labor unions have yet to weigh in on May 1st protests. They’re bound by a stricter legal definition of the term ‘strike,’ so participation has largely been limited to sympathies expressed by ground-level leaders.
The emerging ‘alt-labor’ groups aren’t bound by obligations under the purview of the National Labor Relations Act and are planning on active participation.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, a food industry worker advocacy group, will also be participating in the strike, according to Saru Jayaraman, its co-director. ROC United and its network of restaurant owners and workers were instrumental in organizing the recent Day Without Immigrants protest, which shuttered hundreds of restaurants in cities across the country.
America’s last major general strike was the first such Day Without Immigrants, in 2006, in which more than a million workers struck.
“That was the largest national rising in many, many decades,” said Daniel Gross, founder and executive director of Brandworkers, which organizes food manufacturing workers. “For those of us who were fortunate enough to be involved, we’ll tell you, it was a strike. That 2006 momentum has not yet been duplicated on May 1 to date.”
The plans for May 1 this year, and the organizations pushing them, highlight the role of so-called alt-labor groups, which can move faster than their larger, richer and more powerful institutional peers. Jayaraman, from ROC United, said groups like hers have more flexibility to call for their members to stop work, while established unions feel a need to tread carefully.
Locally, the Union del Barrio and various labor groups are organizing protests, with details to announced in coming weeks.
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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