This month, more than 600 labor leaders and union activists gathered in Sacramento for California Labor’s annual Joint Legislative Conference, co-sponsored by the California Labor Federation and the State Building & Construction Trades Council. This action-packed two-day event is an intensive crash-course on all of the vital pieces of legislation that Labor is seeking to pass this year in California, and it also gives participants the chance to lobby their legislators directly in support of Labor’s legislative agenda.
This year, the conference participants were joined by several very special guests, including a group of young women DREAMers and a delegation of leaders and activists from Honduras, as well as high-ranking legislators and elected officials who took the time to address the group of labor activists directly.
Assembly Speaker (and longtime union activist) John Perez told the conference attendees:
As Californians, we know that what happens here lays the foundation for the future of the whole country. And while the national media seems to be transfixed on decline of unions, we know that here in California, our labor movement is growing. More workers are embracing our message, carrying our card and joining our fight… because the labor movement is an enduring force for positive change in the lives of all working people.
Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski outlined California Labor’s top legislative priorities for 2013, including our aggressive campaign to End the Corporate Gravy Train by reforming the wasteful Enterprise Zone corporate tax giveaway. The flawed EZ program rewards wealthy companies for relocating jobs from one part of the state to another with huge tax breaks – even if no net new jobs are created. And it’s costing our state more than $700 million a year.
The Enterprise Zone program is not a ‘job creator’ – unless the jobs you want to create are minimum wage jobs. These wealthy companies are using OUR tax dollars to steal OUR jobs – It’s time to end this Corporate Gravy Train! This is not the time for caution. This is the time for action!
Immigrant worker rights and immigration reform were among the most talked-about issues at the conference, as California Labor prepares to move a package of bills aimed at protecting immigrant workers from exploitation, abuse and retaliation at work. One brave immigrant worker who was fired from her job at Marquez Bros in Hanford for standing up for herself and her fellow workers told the conference, “I do NOT regret organizing a union!”
Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern and Labor Commissioner Julie Su were the honored guests at the convention lunch program. In her keynote address, Commissioner Su detailed the remarkable progress she’s made in cracking down on employers who violate labor law.
In 2012 alone, my agency found $186 million in wages and penalties owed to California workers — the highest amount on record! This is not a question of taking sides, it’s an issue of respect for the law. The underground economy thrives when employers think they can violate the laws with impunity because the penalites are small. Our job is to protect the hard-working men and women of California, as well as the honest employers who pay by the rules. But if an employer breaks the law by operating in the underground economy and denying their workers wages, then they may feel like were taking sides. To those employers who steal from workers, I say, we are not on your side. We’re not supposed to be on your side.
Conference attendees spent the afternoon participating in topical issue briefings that focused on many of Labor’s key issues in 2013, including health care, immigration reform, CEQA, corporate tax breaks, ballot initiative reform, labor law enforcement and more. For the first time, this year’s conference also included a unique round table discussion on engaging more young people in and around the Labor Movement, sponsored by the all-new California Labor Young Workers Council (full disclosure: I also happens to be the newly-elected president of the Young Workers Council.)
The conference dinner kicked off with an emotional and inspiring musical tribute to the late labor musician and activist John Fromer, who passed away earlier this year. To celebrate John’s life and legacy, his nephew Reed and some of John’s close friends performed several of John’s most impactful and memorable songs, reminding all those in attendance that, in John’s own words, it’s “Gonna Take Us All.”
State Controller John Chiang delivered a compelling keynote address that highlighted how California managed to turn our budget crisis into a projected surplus.
Four years ago, this state was in pure fiscal meltdown. People were struggling for their lives. They were losing their jobs. They were losing their houses. And this was caused, in part, because the legislature was in a battle with Governor Schwarzenegger, and it took 100 days to pass a budget. I’m happy to say we haven’t had that problem for the last two years, because you got Proposition 25 passed and you changed how we get our budget done. We get it done on time, so we don’t put 200,000-plus state workers in harm’s way… and I’ll continue to fight for working families til the bitter end, because your dreams are too big to fail!
The conference dinner also featured our special awards program, where San Francisco State University Professor John Logan received the Solidarity award, and dozens of unions and labor councils were recognized for their hard work and dedication during last year’s successful campaign to defeat Prop 32. And after an action-packed day at the conference, the labor activists let loose at the conference afterparty at the Park Ultra Lounge, hosted by the Young Workers Council and sponsored by the California Building and Construction Trades Council.
Today, conference attendees will head over to the Capitol where they’ll meet with their legislators to lobby them directly on the issues and policies that matter most to California’s working families. Then at 11:30, they’ll all join together on the steps of the Capitol for an energetic rally to “End the Corporate Gravy Train” by reforming flawed corporate tax breaks that are bleeding our state of billions. Check back later for highlights!
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