In California, Labor and Business Standing Together

walmart supercenterIt is not every day that labor and business come together to co-sponsor legislation. But the truth is, we have a lot of shared interests. We all care about creating and protecting jobs, ensuring a skilled workforce and revitalizing our battered economy. This year, the California Labor Federation sponsored two bills with the business community to further these shared goals.

SB 469 (Vargas) takes aim at the supercenters that have sprung up throughout our state. Although developers always claim these supercenters will bring jobs, we have seen at the local level that they often bring more harm than good. Because of their market dominance, supercenters generally put their competitors out of business.

The first to go are the small businesses that can’t compete with a supercenter’s predatory pricing. The next are the traditional grocery stores that provide middle-class jobs to longtime employees and can’t compete with a supercenter’s poverty wages.

So rather than create new jobs, a supercenter typically replaces existing jobs — and in fact, results in fewer jobs, eliminating 1.5 jobs for every new one created.

Now, there’s no doubt supercenters have their plusses and minuses, but if you’ve ever witnessed a community debate when a new supercenter comes to town, you know that facts are rarely discussed. Instead, the supercenter wines and dines local electeds, makes tons of promises about jobs and revenue, and is never fact-checked or asked hard questions.

That’s why this year, the California Labor Federation and Small Business California came together to take on the goliath of the superstores. We co-sponsored SB 469, which requires that a supercenter developer pay for an independent study of how a supercenter will impact jobs, wages, and local businesses prior to approval.

This is not about stopping projects or causing endless delays. And local governments are still free to approve or deny any project they want. We just want these decisions to be based on facts, not promises.

We think strong communities are made up of workers who receive healthcare coverage through their employers, and don’t have to depend on state-funded programs. We know small businesses keep revenue local, spurring greater economic activity. That’s why, on our side, we welcome independent analysis of the economic impact of these supercenters.

The other side says supercenters bring all sorts of great benefits — but if supercenters are so good for a community, what are they so worried about? Why do they oppose any increased scrutiny of how their business practices impact the economy?  We are proud to stand with Small Business California, the Neighborhood Market Association, the Independent Booksellers, and many others to say, “Show me the facts.”

Supercenters are not the only thing we can agree with employers on. We all know the urgency of getting laid-off workers back to work and getting workers trained to find steady employment in this shaky economy. When federal training dollars under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) were directed to local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), we assumed that money would go straight into training laid-off workers. We were shocked to find that some WIBs spent ZERO percent of that money on training and instead used it for administrative costs.

Just as labor wants workers to have the skills they need to find jobs, manufacturers want a skilled workforce. So we joined with the State Building Trades and the California Manufacturers to sponsor a bill, SB 734 (DeSaulnier) requiring that this WIA money go directly to job training.  We didn’t know we were headed right into a hornet’s nest, where local WIBs reacted in strong opposition to any minimum training requirement.

caitlin vegaBut we reached out to community partners who provide the training, and reached a deal that protected existing services and locked in a minimum of 30% of the funds committed to hard skills training. Now, manufacturers willing to invest in California know there will be skilled workers here who are ready to step in to the jobs of tomorrow.

These partnerships show that while the Chamber of Commerce may call any bill that helps workers a “job killer,” the employer community is not monolithic. Small businesses care about our local communities and are often ignored by their own trade associations. Manufacturers create the jobs that can rebuild our economy, and we plan to work closely with them to make that a reality.

When times are so tough, we need to look for any and all opportunities to work together and make things better for California workers.

Caitlin Vega
Labor’s Edge

Published by the LA Progressive on September 21, 2011
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