Tag Archives: working class


This is the fourth part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:

Proposition 33: A Fine Example of What’s Wrong With The Proposition System

California’s proposition system is generally broken. There are good propositions out there, such as Proposition 25 (which made it so that budgets no longer need super-majorities to pass).

Then there are things like Proposition 33.

Proposition 33 is the worst type of proposition out there.

More below.

 It’s the type of proposition in which a big corporation asks voters to change the law so that the corporation can increase profits. In this case the corporation is Mercury Insurance, founded by billionaire George Joseph:


What is even more crazy about this proposition is that Mercury Insurance placed the exact same thing on the ballot just two years ago. It failed. Now Mercury is trying again.

What Does Proposition 33 Do?

Proposition 33 allows car insurance companies to give discounts to individuals with five continuous years of car insurance.

Conversely, this means that individuals without five continuous years of car insurance will have their car insurance become more expensive. Insurance companies, after all, don’t just hand out discounts because they’re nice. If Proposition 33 passes car insurance companies will give the discount to those who qualify and then raise their prices for everybody else. For those without five continuous years of car insurance, you’ll be paying more if this proposition passes.

Who are people without five continuous years of car insurance?

Well, they’re generally the young and the poor.


Say you’re a working-class immigrant who’s just saved enough money to buy a car for the first time in your life. If Proposition 33 passes, your car insurance will become more expensive. Or say you’re a young person (like me) who just got your license for the first time. If Proposition 33 passes, your car insurance will also become more expensive. Or say you’re a proud mother of a blooming high school student. If Proposition 33 passes, you’ll be paying more for your son’s car insurance once he gets his license.

Yup, This Affects Me Too!

This proposition directly affects me and every single young and poor Californian out there. It also affects every single mother or father of a high school or college student. If Proposition 33 passes, car insurance will be more expensive for every Californian driving a car for the first time in his or her life.


(Under Proposition 33 these smiling Californians will be paying a whole lot more in car insurance.)

This is why voting is so important. The young, the poor, and parents can’t let companies like Mercury Insurance sneak Proposition 33 past us.

Every single young person in California, and every single one of their parents, should vote against Proposition 33.

…And You Will Know Him By The Trail Of Dead (Bills)

I saw Bill Maher on Friday in an interview with former Mexican President Vicente Fox, lamenting that Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn’t be able to face off as Presidential candidates due to Constitutional violations.  “Isn’t that sad,” he said.  For all his conceits as a free thinker, Maher represents a kind of baseline Hollywood groupthink when it comes to Arnold, reading the headlines and the magazine covers but never bothering to uncover the whole story.  That story can be easily divined from this weekend’s veto massacre.  In addition to stopping the California DREAM Act, he vetoed needed legislation for the state’s migrant farm workers, allowing them to organize through a “card check” system.  He even disabled a bill that would have added a sunset clause to the card check system, making it ever harder for them to organize and support themselves and their families.  Here’s another bill that went down the drain:

On Saturday, another bill was vetoed, AB 377, by Assemblymember Juan Arambula (D-Fresno). It would have required an employer who is a farm labor contractor to disclose in the itemized statement furnished to employees up to five names and addresses of the legal entities that secured the employer’s services.

According to the sponsor of the bill, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation more than 40,000 California farms grow fruits and vegetables on almost four million acres in this state, so it is not surprising that a 2006 survey of Central Valley farm workers found that 70% could not identify the name of the farm they were working on.

The same survey found that 56% had not been paid the minimum wage when working on a piece rate; 31% had not been paid all the overtime they were owed; and that 42% had unexplained deductions made from their pay. Between 60% and 80% of harvest work is done by labor contractors. Without being able to readily identify the farm who hired the contractor, enforcement actions against the contractor are unlikely to either make the worker whole for wages owed or to have any deterrent effect at all against a grower who shares legal responsibility for the contractor’s labor law violations.

So while Governor Schwarzenegger told the hundreds of farm workers who were at the Capitol in September that he was supportive of their goals, in the end, he vetoed these bills and sided with agribusiness.

Indeed, this is part of a persistent pattern by the Governor to make life harder for working families while protecting the corporate interests that helped get him elected.  Far from a governor of the people, he is simply a corporatist who has the backs of the elite.  Because we don’t have a functioning political press, this contempt for the average Californian will probably not make it too far off the blogs and insider political circles.  But they have real-world consequences that people will only discover when they are put in the situation that legislation could have covered, and they aren’t likely to connect the dots.  A sampling of the pro-worker legislation that was vetoed:

• SB 549 (Corbett)-this bill would have protected the job of a worker taking time off to attend to the funeral of a family member.

• SB 727 (Kuehl)-this bill provided that employees covered by family temporary disability insurance (FTDI) could take the leave to care for a grandparent, siblings, grandchildren and parent-in-law.

• AB 537 (Swanson)-this bill expanded the definition of family under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to allow eligible workers to take job-protected leave to care for a seriously ill adult child, sibling, grandchild, or parent in law.

• AB 435 (Brownley)-this bill would have addressed harsh limitation periods on bringing certain wage discrimination claims. These claims are frequently brought by working women who have been underpaid relative to their male counterparts, and many of these women are struggling to raise kids in single parent situations.

• AB 1636 (Mendoza)-this bill would have expedited a job retraining voucher to disabled workers unable to return to their former jobs; workers such as these are struggling to adapt to replace the income needed for the family to survive.

• SB 936 (Perata)-this bill would have increased the benefits paid to permanently disabled workers over a 3 year period. Since 2004 these workers have seen their benefits slashed by 50% or more according to studies by University of California researchers. At the same time, insurer profits have exceeded all benefits paid to or on behalf of disabled workers; it’s a concept that is clearly not family-friendly. The families and kids of disabled workers suffer as they struggle to keep pace with the financial devastation of injuries.

AB 435 is the state version of the Lily Ledbetter Pay Act, attempting to remedy a horrible Supreme Court decision from earlier in the year.  So Arnold is putting himself squarely in the position of Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Smuel Alito.  This is our post-partisan “leader.”

Furthermore, he vetoed meaningful health care reform in AB 8, and put forth flawed legislation of his own that has no chance of coming out of the legislature, partially financed by the stupid, shortsighted practice of leasing the lottery to private interests.

I’d like to say that there’s an “on the other hand,” a couple bills Arnold allowed through that provide aid or comfort to the working class.  But on these issues, he comes down squarely on the side of his corporate buddies.  It feels like spitting into the wind to keep noting this.  Maybe someday Bill Maher won’t have a big-time TV show, he’ll be working for his own retirement, and he’ll realize that he’s been screwed by this Administration.  But I wouldn’t bet on it.

The LA Times and the Working Class

I have a conflicted relationship with the LA Times.  On the one hand, they still do a stellar job covering international news; I would put the paper’s Iraq reporting up with any other news organization in the world.  But on the editorial side, the paper has taken up the neoliberal consensus with a vengeance, and turns a blind eye to vital issues to this community, like inequality and poverty.  Nancy Cleeland, an excellent writer, has decided to leave the paper for just this reason:

It’s awkward to criticize an old friend, which I still consider the Times to be, but I think the question of how mainstream journalists deal with the working class is important and deserves debate. There may be no better setting in which to examine the issue: The Los Angeles region is defined by gaping income disparities and an enormous pool of low-wage immigrant workers, many of whom are pulled north by lousy, unstable jobs. It’s also home to one of the most active and creative labor federations in the country. But you wouldn’t know any of that from reading a typical issue of the L.A. Times, in print or online. Increasingly anti-union in its editorial policy, and celebrity — and crime-focused in its news coverage, it ignores the economic discontent that is clearly reflected in ethnic publications such as La Opinion.

Of course, I realize that revenues are plummeting and newsroom staffs are being cut across the country. But even in these tough financial times, it’s possible to shift priorities to make Southern California’s largest newspaper more relevant to the bulk of people who live here. Here’s one idea: Instead of hiring a “celebrity justice reporter,” now being sought for the Times website, why not develop a beat on economic justice? It might interest some of the millions of workers who draw hourly wages and are being squeezed by soaring rents, health care costs and debt loads.

Go read the whole thing, this is an important article.  You would think that it would be easier and more cost-effective for the Times to cover what’s happening in its own backyard.  Of course, the Times was first part of a corporate-owned media collective, the Tribune Corporation, and now Sam Zell, a multi-millionaire.  The top editors and senior staff aren’t affected by the real issues impacting working people, and it shows in where they place their emphasis.

I remembered the workers who killed chickens, made bagged salads, packed frozen seafood, installed closet organizers, picked through recycled garbage, and manufactured foam cups and containers. They were injured from working too fast, fired for speaking up, powerless, invisible. I saw that their impact on all of us who live in the region is huge.

Now, like hundreds of other mid-career journalists who are walking away from media institutions across the country, I’m looking for other ways to tell the stories I care about. At the same time, the world of online news is maturing, looking for depth and context. I think the timing couldn’t be better.

I would suggest that Cleeland would always be welcome on the blogosphere, particularly on this site, where I’m proud to say that issues of class and inequality are often foregrounded.

UPDATE: I would add that proof of the LA Times’ relationship to the poor can be easily gleaned in this BS hit piece on John Edwards by Jonah Goldberg, someone who doesn’t live in California but is hired to write lazy smear jobs based on two-week old stories without merit.