Today is the Last Day to Register to Vote

by Brian Leubitz

I’m sure you are already registered to vote, but have you moved lately? Do you have a friend that moved or needs to register for the first time in California? Well, fortunately enough, we have a great online registration system, and you (or your friend) should mosey on down to said website and just do it.

Click here for the California Voter Registration Site.

Voter numbers will come out shortly, but we can probably expect pretty decent voter turnout come June 7. So, go ahead, get that registration in now, and get ready to vote in a couple weeks!

Moving on Up? John Chiang and Fiona Ma Announce Campaigns

California_State_Treasurer_John_ChiangGovernor’s Race Begins Very Early

by Brian Leubitz

Lt.Gov. Gavin Newsom has been running governor for the better part of this century, or so it seems. And for a while it looked like his fundraising may have deterred anybody else from officially announcing their candidacy for the 2018 contest.  That changed this week:

California Treasurer John Chiang has made it official: He’s running for governor in 2018.

The Democrat made the announcement in a statement Tuesday morning.

“As your next Governor, I have a blueprint for expanding and renewing the California dream through fixing our crumbling infrastructure, making retirement security our generation’s call to arms, and rebuilding California’s middle class through better jobs and improved educational opportunities,” Chiang said. (LAT 5/18/16)

First, let me say that I’ve always been impressed with John Chiang, as both Controller and Treasurer. He fought Governor Schwarzenegger during the worst of the Budget fights, and has been a competent manager of the office. As to whether he can compete with the fundraising of Gavin Newsom is an open question. Chiang has some money in his treasurer account that he can transfer over to this race, but he is already over $2million behind the former SF Mayor.

And right after that announcement, BoE Member Fiona Ma (and CPA!) announced that she would be seeking Chiang’s Treasurer gig. In an email sent to supporters, she outlined her qualifications:

As a Certified Public Accountant, Chair of the Board of Equalization, and state and local official, I’ve put my skills to work for Californians. I’ll be ready on Day One to serve as California’s treasurer and invest in the people and small businesses that are the foundation for California’s economic success.

An open statewide office is likely to attract competition, but Ma will be a formidable candidate. She has a history of fighting it out in San Francisco politics, and can be a formidable fundraiser herself.

Welcome to 2018? Oh, right, 2 more years of this?

The Sonoma Coast Belongs to ALL Californians

I love our state parks. That can not be over emphasized. In Sonoma County, the state parks system is looking to set up iron rangers along the coast.

The pay-to-park fight has waged for several years between the California Department of Parks and Recreation (which wants the parking fees) and Sonoma County (whose supervisors unanimously rejected the plan in 2013). The iron rangers would be installed at destinations like Goat Rock, Salmon Creek, Shell Beach and other spots along a 35-mile stretch of Sonoma County coast.

The state appealed the county’s decision to the commission, which will meet on April 13–15 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Santa Rosa. The meeting was moved from a smaller facility in anticipation of big crowds. (North Bay Bohemian)

Quite frankly, it won’t work. People will park along the residential streets, it will markedly decrease access to our parks, and the local economy will be negatively impacted. The Coastal Commission’s staff said as much in an epic report (very large PDF available here). You can get more

Here’s the quick and dirty summary of their logic:

Staff believes that the best path forward for fee parking programs at the State beaches on the Sonoma Coast is to provide the necessary information and analysis to address the potential impacts associated with a fee parking program which will inform how to avoid or mitigate any identified adverse impacts. In addition, DPR should propose specific measures or programs to provide lower cost access to these beach parks for low income persons. Furthermore, DPR should explore a collaborative partnership with Sonoma County and non-profit entities for joint operation of some of the beach parks as Bodega Head or Willow Creek to share the costs for operation and maintenance which could result in reduced or no fees. Parking fees to access State beaches is an issue of statewide importance, and it is better understood within a statewide context, wherein fees may make sense at certain locations and units, but maybe not others, and local interests and partners are better factored into the equation, including in terms of potential shared management and parks development. A statewide perspective also helps to ensure thatsuch a statewide program is equitable, includes transit alternatives in locations where fees are newly imposed, and allows DPR to further explore partnerships with interested local governments and nonprofits who wish to relieve DPR of its burden of maintaining facilities. This process would be consistent with the letter agreements exchanged in 2013 by the then executive directors of the Commission and State Parks, and with the direction given in Parks Forward, the internal reorganizing effort underway within DPR. For these reasons, staff recommends that the Commission deny the revised proposal submitted by DPR.

For years now, one of the targeted parks within the Sonoma Coast State Park, Willow Creek, has been run by an amazing nonprofit, Landpaths. While they didn’t have the resources to allow completely free access, they were able to manage the land and the trails in a responsible manner. You did have to go to the park to get a permit, but they were free and allowed free access to the park. It wasn’t an ideal system, but it worked.

The Iron Rangers will not work. While the State Parks system has been crying out for money from these parks, and closing many of the lots during the budget crisis, the community was hit hard. The Russian River area parks currently make about $1.3m in revenue, but cost about $4.5m to operate. Yes, it is a money losing operation. But the value of those parks to the communities, including Jenner, Bodega Bay, and the Russian River towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio is immense. Our park systems should not be revenue neutral. Teddy Roosevelt recognized the importance of parks to our nation, and California state parks should follow in these footsteps.

The public is now fighting this mistake, as we fought a series of past mistakes made in the name of development. It is all outlined in this important video. Watch it above, and join the fight against this plan at the website from some folks who are working to block it: FreeOurCoast.com.

Sonoma Coast State Park

Pulaski: Congress Must Reject Job-Killing TPP

by Steve Smith

ARTPulaskiTPPOn Monday, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, representing a fake astroturf group  called the “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs,” penned a misleading op-ed in the Sacramento Bee in support of the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Cabaldon used a study from the Peterson Institute to help make his case that the TPP is good for jobs. Unfortunately for Cabaldon, he must not have actually read the study he cited because it actually says the flawed deal wouldn’t create any jobs AND it would lead to fewer good-paying manufacturing jobs.

Today, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski set the record straight with his own op-ed in the Bee, pointing out the many harmful effects of the deal.

Like every other recent trade pact, the TPP is chock-full of goodies for corporate special interests while woefully inadequate on labor and environmental safeguards. The chief problem that plagued deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement is that labor standards were weak or unenforceable, encouraging corporate CEOs to move their operations to countries that pay meager wages in comparison to U.S. wages. NAFTA led to 700,000 jobs shipped overseas.

The TPP is no different. In fact, the Peterson Institute report that Cabaldon cites finds that the trade deal wouldn’t be a job creator for America, but would lead to 121,000 fewer manufacturing jobs by 2030…That’s a major red flag for anyone concerned about the future of our middle class.

Another recent study by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University paints a much bleaker picture. It projects that the TPP will lead to GDP contraction in the U.S. and job losses and increased inequality in all participating countries. Experts say the deal could also undermine California’s efforts to combat climate change, result in higher prescription drug prices and allow rampant currency manipulation by other countries.

Anyone who thinks this rotten deal will help address inequality in America clearly isn’t paying attention (or even worse, they’re drinking the corporate Kool-Aid).  Bottom line, progressives like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are rejecting the deal. Conservatives are also blasting it, including Republican congressional candidate Scott Jones, who’s running against Rep. Ami Bera, who sold-out workers on last year’s fast track vote. The notion that Cabaldon and his bogus “progressive” coalition are supporting workers is laughable. Real progressives (as well as many other folks across the political spectrum) oppose the TPP and know from experience this deal will further gut out the middle class.

Pulaski:

The legacy of America’s broken trade policy is shuttered factories, outsourced jobs and a widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else. It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time for Congress to take a stand in support of working people instead of kowtowing to corporate lobbyists. For the sake of our future, Congress must reject the TPP.

Cross post from Labor’s Edge

New Law Will Protect Low-Wage Earners from Debt Collectors

by Jessica Bartholow

The fight for fifteen is no longer just a slogan, or a hashtag. It is now the law in an increasing number of California cities and will soon be a checkbox on our ballots. And, in January, California will have the highest minimum wage in the nation. As the most prosperous state in the country, with one of the highest rates of income inequality, it is only right that we should.

But, for some minimum wage workers who have been consumed by debt, either because they have lived lifetimes in poverty or because they became newly poor during the recession, the increasing wage offers little relief. This is because existing state law allows a low-income worker to be garnished at the maximum rate of 25% when they earn more than the state minimum wage.  As a result, workers earning $12 an hour because of a local minimum wage (for example) can be subject to a $3 an hour garnishment – making their take-home pay no more than it was before the local initiative raised the wage.

This 100% taking from workers earning higher minimum wages undermines not only workers, but also local decision making.  Low-income workers want to honor and pay back their debts like everyone else, but a 100% taking on these earnings discourages work and contributes to poverty among working families, putting life essentials – food, rent, utilities – out of reach. When low-income workers’ wages are garnished, they often face more severe setbacks, losing their assets and falling into further debt to credit card companies or predatory lenders. A new report by ProPublica shows how this kind of aggressive debt collection not only hurts low-income workers, but also low-income communities, especially black communities.

On July 1, 2016, these workers and their communities will see some relief. That’s the day that SB 501, a new law authored by Senator Bob Wieckowski, goes into effect.

SB 501 makes important changes to California’s wage garnishment law.

  • SB 501 Honors Local Minimum Wage Ordinances: Current law ties the garnishment calculation to the state minimum wage. SB 501 ties the garnishment calculation to the state minimum wage unless there is a local minimum wage ordinance that is higher. As of July 1, 2016, workers cannot be garnished until their paycheck is higher than the amount someone would earn working full-time at the local minimum wage.
  • SB 501 Graduates the Garnishment Rate: As of July 1, 2016, the garnishment rate will be tapered so people who earn less than twice the supplemental poverty rate for a family of three pay less in garnishment, and workers who are the poorest pay the lowest rates of garnishment.
  • Government Debt Not Included in SB 501: SB 501 does not reduce garnishment rates paid on child support or tax debt.

As we continue to build toward more equitable wages and workplace policies, I look forward to also continuing to lightening the burden of debt carried by workers who have been undermined by low-wages for far too long. We will need to do both, improve wages and reduce debt, if we are going to win an economy built on shared prosperity. For more information about this new law and how it will impact your clients or constituents, contact Jessica Bartholow at jbartholow@wclp.org or click here.

These California Democrats voted for the Republican Syrian Refugee Bill

At sunset, a group of mostly Syrian refugees arrive on Greek island of Lesvos after crossing from Turkey. Image from UNHCR.

The House passed the so-called “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act”, which doesn’t actually protect Americans. Rather, it just makes the process of resettling refugees even more cumbersome than the already lengthy process. Some would say that we [should have learned our lesson 60 years ago http://boingboing.net/2015/11/19/how-to-cook-a-marijuana-marina.html], but apparently we have not.

However, just to add insult to injury, these Democrats joined a total of 47 Democrats and their Republican colleagues to create the possibility of a veto override. (H/t to this dKos diary)

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)

By way of explanation, Rep. Garamendi released this statement:

“This bill strengthens the already stringent requirements for international refugees entering America,” said Congressman Garamendi. “But strengthening the refugee program is a minor part of the reassessment we must make in the wake of the Paris attacks. For those wishing to come to America to do harm, the refugee program is the least likely way to get in and the most likely way to get caught. Of the millions of displaced Syrians, only around 2,200 have been admitted to the United States as refugees, and for a good reason: applicants are vetted through biometric and biographic checks for at least 18 months by every major American national security and law enforcement agency before they even set foot on American soil. Anyone whose identity and story cannot be precisely confirmed is not admitted to our country. Once they gain admission to the United States, their status is periodically reviewed by state and federal law enforcement.

So, this doesn’t actually help keep us safe, but we should do it anyway in a time of great humanitarian need. The United States, given the destabilizing effect our involvement in Iraq has been to the entire Middle East, has a special humanitarian obligation. And now we are doing our best to walk away from our obligations.

UPDATE: Rep. Garamendi has since posted this statement. Here’s an excerpt, but you should read it in full:

The bill I voted for, H.R. 4038, by my reading (and I encourage everyone reading this to read the bill too), does the following:

  1. It requires the heads of the agencies responsible for vetting refugees – the Homeland Security Secretary, the FBI Director, and the Director of National Intelligence specifically – after the existing thorough (and unchanged) background checks are conducted, to certify that refugee applicants don’t pose a threat to the United States before being granted refugee status.
  2. It requires a review and periodic reports on our refugee program to the appropriate Congressional committees.

That’s literally the entire bill. There’s no talk of pausing or rejecting refugees, no matter how many headlines say otherwise.

 

A Few Chats on the Radio About Legislation

I’ll be talking on the airwaves about some of California’s progressive legislation

by Brian Leubitz

Governor Brown has been pretty busy recently signing a slew of legislation (as well as vetoing a few bills). At 10 on Friday Morning on KALW’s Your Call, I’ll be talking about some of that legislation with Rose Aguilar and a couple of other panelists to discuss the week in the media.

I also appeared on KPFK’s Uprising Radio with Sonali Kolhatkar this morning. You can listen to that segment here. I would also suggest that you review the long strange anti-union cost-cutting measures that will see a reduction in the long-term stability of KPFK, Pacifica Radio, and the Uprising show.

Let’s talk legislation!

Governor Vetoes AB 465 Banning Mandatory Employment Arbitration

Bill by Asm. Roger Hernandez would have blocked most mandatory arbitration provisions in employment contracts

by Brian Leubitz

When I was 15, I got my first real job. I was a bagging clerk in a grocery store hired just before the Thanksgiving rush. I thought the tips for carrying bags out to the car were amazing. In my first shift, I made just under $5/hour from my employer, and about the same in tips. I was over the moon.

What I wasn’t thinking about was that contract I just signed. I had gone to the nearest employer that would hire a 15-year-old, the grocery store down the street, and filled out their form. After a brief interview, I signed whatever paperwork they gave me and I was on my way to go put some stuffing in a plastic bag. There are few circumstances where one party has a greater power imbalance than an employment contract. I wanted the job, and I probably would have signed anything. (Sorry Kyle Broflovski).

I bring this up because on Sunday, the governor vetoed AB 465, which would have gone a long way towards addressing this imbalance of power:

Assembly Bill 465 would require that any employer enforcing an arbitration agreement would need to prove that the employee knowingly and voluntarily approved the document, and it was not required to get their job. (SacBizJournal)

Now, the Governor did have some good points about the Federal Arbitration Act and the jurisprudence surrounding it in his veto message. It is complicated and there are some attempts in California at leveling the playing field for arbitration. But the Supreme Court has given it a hallowed place. Why? Well, businesses love it, of course.

But the underlying problem remains, businesses have all the power, and choose to insert these clauses for a reason. They have familiarity with the process and can control outcomes more. Maybe AB 465 needs some seasoning and clarity surrounding the jurisprudence, but this protection would be a big benefit for workers.

Calitics Transitions

by Brian Leubitz

In August 2005, I worked with a number of amazing folks to push forward a community blog about California politics. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it allowed as many people as cared to get together to talk about progressive politics, goals for organizing, and a few unrelated topics as well. And we had a great team to build the site over the years, just to name a few: Dante Atkins, Robert Cruickshank, David Dayen, Lucas O’Connor, Julia Rosen Chaplin, and Jeremy Woodburn.

Over 15,000 posts, and nearly 50,000 comments, later, it is time for a change. Soapblox, the software provider behind Calitics for the past ten years, is shutting down. The software, originally developed by Paul Preston and then very capably managed by the good folks at Warecorp, was critical to the development of this site and many other progressive community blogs. (Take a peek at the Hillbilly Report’s recap of the recent history of Soapblox)

So, over the weekend, this site will be transitioning to WordPress. (Or if you are reading this, it has already switched over.) All posts, comments, and user data will be preserved, but links may change. Fortunately, wordpress and google will be able to search if you are looking for something back in the archive. User information should remain, but you may need to reset your password if you would like to log in.

And as you have probably noticed, I’ve sort of taken a hiatus from the task of day to day blogging. I’ve been busy with a range of projects, which initially made it hard to keep up my writing. But the greater issue is that once you get out of the daily rhythm of writing and doing all the other tasks of maintaining a site like this, it becomes hard to return to it. I don’t plan on this being the end of Calitics, but it will be a different type of site. Going forward I’ll do a bit of writing on Calitics, but if anybody else wants to help guide Calitics going forward, send me an email (brian AT calitics.com). I’d love to chat with you.

At any rate, keep watching the Calitics Twitter feed and Calitics facebook page for more information. I plan on keeping those updated and posting some thoughts on the state of California politics every now and then.

Thanks!

Brian

AB 219 Closes Wage Loophole on Public Construction Projects

By Steve Smith

California has long been committed to ensuring that anyone employed on a public works construction project earns a living wage. That just means the wages paid to women and men who build the public structures we all use aren’t driven into poverty. The wages are set by region based on cost of living and other factors to ensure that both workers and taxpayers are protected. It’s this kind of stability and fairness that ensures these important projects are completed on time by skilled professionals who do the job right.

But, like with many laws, there are loopholes. Drivers of ready-mix cement trucks who are employed by manufacturers are not covered under the state’s prevailing wage law, meaning those drivers don’t receive the same fair wages that other drivers doing the exact same work receive.

We’ve all seen a line of cement trucks preparing to pour on a construction project. Imagine that the first and third drivers are receiving a fair wage as required by law, while the second and fourth are receiving a substandard wage that makes it extremely difficult to support a family. Because of a loophole in the labor code, this isn’t just a theoretical scenario. It plays out daily on construction projects throughout the state. As a result, public dollars are used to suppress the pay of hard-working men and women without rationale.

But today, the state legislature took an important step to rectifying this inequity by voting to close the loophole with AB 219 (Daly) so that all cement truck drivers working on public projects earn the same fair wage.  Earlier this week, dozens of workers from the State Building and Construction Trades unions and the Teamsters lined the halls of the Capitol to urge legislators to close this loophole and support good jobs. Their message was simple: all workers on a construction site deserve fair treatment on the job and a decent wage to support their families.

While passing this bill may seem like a no-brainer to most, it’s no shock that corporate lobbyists were coming out of the woodwork to oppose. Some big corporations like the loophole because it allows them to underbid responsible contractors who do the right thing by paying their employees a decent wage and offering healthcare and retirement benefits.

While there will always be corporations who try to get around the spirit of the law to cheat workers and pad their own bottom lines, taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize this inherently unfair practice. When workers are mistreated, it endangers the entire project. It’s in all of our best interest to ensure that workers doing the exact same work earn the same pay.

Governor Brown now has the opportunity to close the labor code loophole that treats workers differently solely based on who their employer is. By signing AB 219, the Governor would ensure that public works projects are completed by skilled professionals who earn a decent wage for a hard day’s work.