Unlike the Kelly Girls of years past, today’s temp workers are just as likely to be hired to fill blue collar jobs as office positions, with one major caveat: the new “temporary” hires who pick crops, pack vegetables or clean hotel rooms can work at those jobs for years at the same company — and with little or no advancement. And, according to recent research, that’s exactly the way some of America’s largest companies like it.
The practice has become so pervasive that California Assemblymember Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) is pushing forward a bill, modeled on similar laws passed in Illinois and Massachusetts, intended to hold companies accountable for serious violations of workers’ rights committed by their own labor suppliers.
“As new jobs are added to the economy, employers are utilizing the subcontracted model known as ‘perma-temps’ to avoid accountability in the workplace,” Hernandez said last week.
This week we continue our series about the shaping of California’s laws and policies by Corporate Democrats. In his second article, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Gary Cohn examines how a bill does not become a law when powerful business interests lobby against it.
Jim Araby was dead asleep when his cell phone rang at 6 a.m. last June. Until then the labor activist had been enjoying an idyllic family vacation in Guerneville, on Sonoma County’s Russian River. But the number appearing on his phone told him the call was from Sacramento, suggesting bad news. The voice he now heard confirmed it.
“Can you get here?” a union colleague asked. “We need you.”
Araby, a regional director of the United Food and Commercial Workers, listened in dismay as he learned that Assembly Bill 880, which more than half a dozen community groups and unions had supported,
“Truthfully, I’m burned out,” Wendy Kaufmyn sighs over the phone. “And frankly we’re all just really tired. We’re having a meeting next week to try and revitalize ourselves.”
Kaufmyn, a tenured engineering instructor at the embattled City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and a cofounder of the Save CCSF Coalition, is speaking about the 21-month fight for survival of California’s largest community college. The strain and weariness are evident in her quivering voice.
“I’ve been here 31 years,” she tells Capital & Main. “I love City College and I’m just heartsick at what’s going on. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Kaufmyn is not alone. Since January, when San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily barred the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) from pulling CCSF’s academic accreditation, a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the 79-year-old institution and the future of its 80,000 students.
When Californians elected Democratic supermajorities in the state Assembly and Senate in 2012, many expected to see a new era marked by progressive policies on everything from the economy to the environment to education. While some change has come, it’s not the kind most voters envisioned when they left the polling booth two years ago.
A central reason, as Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Gary Cohn reveals in this first article of a new series, is the emergence of the Corporate Democrat, who is not a traditional moderate but an enabler of big developers, gambling concerns, insurance companies and other interests. With the continuing decline of the Republican Party in the nation’s largest state, the Corporate Democrat promises to shape California politics and policies for years to come.
Marin County is one of California’s most liberal regions and, with its iconic redwoods and stunning coastline, it is also a power center for environmental activism.
Skopje, Macedonia might seem a long way from Los Angeles, but for the 2,000 professional musicians who earn their living recording the film scores for Hollywood’s big movie studios, the Balkan capital — and the bleak future for L.A. movie musicians that it might represent — seems to be getting closer every day.
In at least one way, that future has already arrived in the form of Lionsgate’s Draft Day and the Ivan Reitman film’s nonunion score. Starring Kevin Costner, the movie tells an all-American story of a fictionalized general manager of the lowly Cleveland Browns and his efforts to save Cleveland football on NFL draft day by trading for the number one player pick.
Less all-American is the story behind the recording of Draft Day’s music, which was reportedly piped via the Internet to a Hollywood studio and the film’s composer, John Debney,
In California, a state where nearly seven million residents admit to speaking little or no English, having access to a professional interpreter can mean the difference between life and death in hospitals. With so many Californians at daily risk, a new bill would ensure that patients with limited English proficiency receive correct medical treatment. The law, however, will come too late for Guillermo Garcia Rodriguez. In 2011, the then-45-year-old, Oceanside father of three rushed his 42-year-old wife Elizabeth, who had suffered a massive stroke, to Tri-City Medical Center where she was intubated and put on life support.
Talking to Capital & Main through an interpreter, Garcia, who like his wife, speaks no English, describes a bewildering and frightening month-long ordeal in which he could get little information from the mostly non-Spanish-speaking nurses and hospital staff.
An election campaign now being fought almost completely out of public view could radically alter the way California’s school children are taught. If Marshall Tuck unseats incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state’s public education system could become a laboratory for a movement that prizes privatization and places a high value on student test scores over traditional instruction. The contrasts between the two top contenders in the nonpartisan race could not be more dramatic – nor could the stakes for the country’s largest education system.
The 40-year-old Tuck is a Harvard Business School graduate who has worked as an investment banker for Salomon Brothers and as an executive at Model N, a revenue-management software company. He is a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operation in Los Angeles, and later served as the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools — former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s controversial education nonprofit that tried to improve 17 low-performing public schools,
The following additional conversations have been lightly edited for clarity. For full article, see A Great Divide: The Election Fight for California’s Schools.
Doesn’t the academic performance of California students have a lot to do with being near the bottom of the state on money spent per pupils?
Definitely funding has to play a role . . . but it doesn’t play the only role. I can share this from pure experience because I’ve worked in schools where we had limited funding and had better results. Also, at some schools where we actually got more funding the results didn’t necessarily translate into great success.
How do you counter arguments that Mr Torlakson has more classroom experience than you?
I’ve spent the last 12 years working directly in education, working with kids and parents, working with teachers, hiring principals, developing principals,
The nomination of Californian Ted Mitchell to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Education is the latest indication that proponents of school privatization are continuing to gain influence over the Obama administration’s education policy.
“He represents the quintessence of the privatization movement,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, tells Capital & Main. “This is a signal the Obama administration is committed to moving forward aggressively with transferring public funds to private hands.”
In education “privatization” refers to the contracting out of traditional public education services to for-profit companies or to charter schools that are set up as nonprofit organizations. In many ways, the Mitchell nomination reflects the ongoing battle being fought in Washington and in school districts across the country. It’s a battle that pits the views of teachers, their unions and community groups against a movement that is backed by wealthy philanthropists and corporations.
As the Vergara v. California trial ends its fourth week, the most conspicuous absence from the plaintiffs list may be that of the man most responsible for bringing the education lawsuit — David Welch, the 52-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter. His Menlo Park-based nonprofit initiated Vergara and is picking up all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and PR fees — a bill that was running nearly $3 million even before Welch’s high-powered legal team first set foot in Los Angeles Superior Court for the trial.
Vergara was filed on behalf of nine students and seeks to erase nearly a hundred years of teacher protections from the state education code that were adopted to prevent discriminatory and capricious terminations. The suit claims that five statutes addressing teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure disproportionately harm minority students in high-poverty schools by making it too difficult to fire incompetent teachers.
Andrea Vidales makes $9 an hour taking care of a blind Korean War veteran and an elderly couple in their Merced County homes. Under California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, she spends about 60 hours every week bathing her clients, preparing their meals, cleaning house, paying their bills, driving them to doctors and dealing with other aspects of their medical care. She was delighted, then, when the Obama administration, through the U.S. Department of Labor, announced new regulations last September requiring in-home caregivers to be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week.
Her good fortune didn’t last long. On January 9, Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his proposed $155-billion budget for 2014-2015 at a press conference in Sacramento. Under the governor’s budget, Vidales and hundreds of thousands of other home health care workers would be prohibited from working more than eight hours a day, or 40 hours a week.
Last week’s announcements about 2013 earnings by California’s largest public pension funds suggest the agencies may be making significant progress in shaking off the lingering after-effects of the 2008 stock market crash.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) said it rode a 25 percent run-up in stock prices to post a 16.2 percent gain for its 2013 portfolio — its best showing in a decade. For its part, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) reported an impressive 19.1 percent return on its 2013 investments, led by a 28 percent return on its stock holdings.
The announcements undoubtedly came as welcome news to the roughly 1.6 million California government workers and 860,000 public school teachers represented by the systems. Ever since the 2008 global financial meltdown, their pensions have been in the crosshairs of fiscal conservatives and anti-public pension activists who wish to see the employees’
To appreciate the value of a community college education, consider the transformation of Shanell Williams.
By the time she was a teenager, Williams was constantly getting into trouble on the streets of San Francisco’s Fillmore District. Her abuse of drugs and alcohol, along with a difficult family life, would lead her into the juvenile justice system, drug treatment centers and foster homes.
“I was a juvenile delinquent,” she admits.
Today Williams, now 29, hardly resembles that troubled youth. She is a hard-working student at City College of San Francisco, taking urban studies courses and hoping to transfer to Stanford University or the University of California at Berkeley. She has served as president of the student council at CCSF’s Ocean campus and was elected to be the student representative on CCSF’s Board of Trustees.
“Community college has helped give me a pathway to higher education,” she says.
That pathway may soon be closing.
The California Chamber of Commerce represents more than 13,000 businesses, from companies such as Microsoft and Walt Disney, to local companies with small numbers of employees. From its K Street headquarters in Sacramento, the “Cal Chamber,” as it’s colloquially known, analyzes some 3,000 pieces of legislation every year. In the past 10 years, 341 of 353 — nearly 97 percent — of the bills opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce failed to become law. The vast majority of these were never passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor. Instead, they were killed in committee or voted down by the Legislature or amended to take out provisions opposed by the chamber.
The chamber’s weapon of choice is its highly publicized “Job Killers List,” a roll call of bills the chamber claims threaten the interests of business, though its press releases tend to stress the bills’ menace to California’s economy and its workers’ jobs.
1. “Buy American” Law. AB 1543, introduced by Luis A. Alejo (D-Salinas), would have created a billion-dollar market for goods manufactured in California by requiring that, starting in 2014, at least 70 percent of state and local agency procurement be spent on manufactured goods made in the United States. Failed 04/27/12 deadline to move to fiscal committee.
2. Minimum Wage COLA Law. AB 10, introduced by Luis A. Alejo (D-Watsonville), would have automatically indexed state minimum wage increases to inflation. Held in Assembly Appropriations 5/27/11; failed deadline. (Subsequently, AB 10, raising minimum wage to $10 by 2016, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year.)
3. Wage Theft Lien Law. AB 2517, or the California Wage Lien Bill, introduced by Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park), would have expanded the Mechanics Lien Law to allow workers from all industries to file a lien without an attorney for unpaid labor against the property where the work was done.
It’s official: America has entered a retirement crisis. Or, as Forbes understatedly put it, “the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world.”
Frying Pan News recently spoke with some former state, county and municipal workers for a picture of how their retirements have been living up to their expectations.
Norma Anders, Long Beach
Retired career librarian Norma Anders’ eyes light up when she speaks of her 30 years in the City of Los Angeles’ public library system. “We make a big difference,” she declares proudly. “We’re one of the forces that’s giving our country an educated workforce, an informed citizenry. [It’s how] we’re going to be able to keep our [nation] growing and growing.”
Anders is having her morning tea in the well-manicured front yard of the modest clapboard house she shares with her retired husband, David, and her son Lee, who has moved back home while he finishes an accounting degree at Long Beach State.
Last week San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed delivered his usual speech about the benefits of slashing the retirement benefits of his city’s public employees – and why he is now pushing for a statewide ballot measure that could dramatically change the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians. Reed’s initiative – which he characterizes as a bipartisan effort and which hasn’t yet qualified for the 2014 ballot — would allow the state and local governments to reduce retirement benefits for current employees for the years of work they perform after the measure’s changes go into effect. What was not usual about Reed’s speech was its setting: The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, 3,000 miles from California.
Sandy Hellebrand was concerned. She needed to find a school that could educate her son Gabriel, who has autism and was about to enter high school.
Hellebrand thought she had found the perfect solution: She would enroll Gabriel and her two younger children in Sky Mountain Charter School, one of a rapidly-growing number of virtual schools in California and across the country.
After all, she reasoned, the school would provide excellent online instructional materials and instructors to guide Gabriel’s individual needs. Since Sky Mountain is a publicly funded school – although not a traditional brick-and-mortar one – the state of California would pay for her children’s education. And Hellebrand and her husband Rob, a public high school teacher, would receive about $1,800 a year for each of their children to help defray their costs of educating them at home.
“The idea is fantastic,” she says in an interview with Frying Pan News.
Investigative reporter Gary Cohen recently appeared on radio station KPFK’s David Feldman Show to discuss the strange liaison between the Pew Charitable Trusts and the libertarian Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Cohn had written a piece for Frying Pan News linking the respected research organization with the public-pension-cutting agenda of John Arnold, a billionaire hedge-funder. Cohn also broke a story about a proposed state ballot initiative that would change California’s constitution in favor of gutting the retirement plans of state and municipal employees.
Listen here to a segment of Feldman’s show for a quick rundown of the Pew-Arnold alliance and what’s behind the move to cut funding for public pensions.
In a move to slash the retirement benefits of public employees in California, a group of mostly conservative policy advocates has been working behind the scenes on a possible 2014 ballot initiative. A copy of the still-secret draft initiative, which could dramatically impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians and send a signal nationwide, has been obtained by Frying Pan News. (See the document’s text following this article or click here.)
If enacted, the proposed law would allow the state and local governments to cut back retirement benefits for current employees for the years of work they perform after the changes go into effect. Previous efforts to curb retirement benefits for public employees have largely focused on newly hired workers, but the initiative would shrink pensions for workers who are currently on the job.
“This initiative defines that a government employee’s ‘vested rights’ only applies to pension and retiree healthcare benefits earned for service already rendered,