On Tuesday the Occupy L.A. encampment on City Hall’s narrow north lawn along Temple St. entered its fourth day. The camp first arose on the large commons on the hall’s First St. side, but like nearly all things in the city had to give way to the filming of a movie. That film, Gangster Squad, is about racket busters in the Los Angeles of the 1940s and ’50s, an era with almost nothing in common with the present city – except its growing popular dissatisfaction with the direction of the economy.
Some of the hundred or so participants this late, gray afternoon stood on sidewalks with signs (“Restore Glass-Steagall”), while engaging passersby – some from the Conrad Murray trial up the block — or taking the salute of car drivers honking their horns. Others debated among themselves on the lawn, while some kicked back in their small nylon tents.
The front page of the L.A. Times recently had a story about some hip restaurants replacing serving staff with iPads. First of all, L.A. Times: front page above the fold? Really?
Now, let’s set aside what the latest twist in automation says about us and our social interactions with other human beings. Instead, I want to focus on the fairly obvious economic implications. With apologies to Martin Niemöller:
First, they came for the bank tellers, and I said nothing, for I was not a bank teller.
Then they came for the travel agents, and I said nothing, for I was not a travel agent.
Then they came for the supermarket cashiers, and I said nothing, for I was not a supermarket cashier.
Then they came for the food service workers,
I was recently asked to take part in a “role play” for a group of Hyatt hotel housekeepers in the basement of their union hall, in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. Each had taken a leave of absence from work to talk with community leaders about conditions for room attendants in their hotels, and they needed a chance to practice. The women belong to UNITE HERE Local 11, and are part of a national campaign of housekeepers reaching out for community support of boycotts at several Hyatt properties.
Even though some of them knew me as an active supporter of hotel workers, first as a community volunteer and then as part of the LAANE staff, I agreed to play the director of an environmental organization with limited knowledge about the hotel industry. (This last part didn’t require much acting from me.)
Sometimes struggling to express themselves in English,
I’ve met more guys in the building trades that raise kids on their own than anywhere else in my life. That’s how I knew it was possible to do. I’m a single dad and I have primary custody of my son, Ayden. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the stability I got from working on the L.A. Live project.
Ayden is seven now. He just started second grade. Every day after school, I help him with his spelling and sentences. We do flashcards and memory games. I have him write down a daily paragraph from Kermit the Frog’s song, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green.”
I’ve been out-of-work as an ironworker for over a year — L.A. Live was the last long-term job I had. When I worked on the project, Ayden and I lived in Long Beach. I didn’t drive and took the Blue Line every day to the Staples Center When you work construction,
The American labor movement needs a jolt and Joe Burns’ new book, Reviving the Strike, delivers just the right shock treatment.
Debunking commonly held assumptions about labor’s inevitable decline and extinction, Burns, a veteran union lawyer, argues clearly and persuasively that worker power is still possible — but will require a dramatic shift in thinking and strategy.
Don’t expect standard academic or progressive bromides about “coalition-building,” “corporate campaigns,” “organizing-to-scale” or “social unionism.” In taking on some of the labor left’s sacred cows — living wage campaigns, worker centers, etc. — Burns praises and honors the commitment, brains and tenacity of activists. But these approaches, he suggests, lack the singular component necessary to transform power relations in the political economy. That, he contends, is the capacity to stop production.
Burns makes his case in a tightly-written narrative. After the union insurgencies of the 1930s, Congress and the courts imposed a system he calls “labor control,” one designed to disable unions’ principal and primary weapon: the strike.
A few years ago the nonprofit, nonpartisan Los Angeles Economic Roundtable released a study that got too little attention. It found that union workers in the county earn 27 percent more than nonunion workers in the same jobs. These extra wages for the 800,000 union workers—17 percent of the labor force—added $7.2 billion a year in pay. As union workers spent their wages on food, clothing and other items, their additional buying power created 64,800 jobs and $11 billion in economic output. Let me repeat: $11 billion.
Clearly unions are good for the economy. But to hear business propaganda tell it, that 11 billion is the 11th Plague, because anything that moves the country away from an imaginary, 19th-century Utopia where business held all the cards, is to be avoided — like the plague.
This winner-take-all crowd should be happy because, in many ways, America today does resemble its Gilded Age of the late 1800s —
Corporations are forever arguing that all that stands between consumers and paradise is the “lousy gummint” and its lousy regulations. “Get out of the way!” is their rallying cry. Well, we had a bit of a natural experiment this past summer, as Congress forced a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. (As it happens, the shutdown sprang, in part, from anti-union ideological reasons, but that’s a whole other story.)
In addition to furloughing some 4,000 FAA employees and idling tens of thousands of construction workers, the shutdown deprived the government of an estimated $30 million in ticket taxes—every day.
Some might argue that the government needs that revenue. But let’s focus on the positive: Without the taxes, ticket prices are lower for consumers, and that’s a good thing, right? Awwww, you’re adorable. A couple of airlines did pass the savings on to travelers, but according to a travel agent I spoke with (yes,
We were met at the Hyatt Andaz loading dock with a big sign that said, Welcome Back, Andaz Employees. I crept into the entrance, a nervous wreck, still uncertain if I had been fired or replaced, but I was soon relieved to find that everyone had been let back in. We were greeted with forced smiles and boxes of multi-colored donuts.
Union members refer to each other as brothers and sisters. It may seem cultish at first, but after my experience with a seven-day strike at the Hyatt Andaz last week, it makes perfect sense. There is nothing that bonds people like walking off a job together, protesting their employer and taking no pay for a week, all in hopes of getting a better situation. We made a financial sacrifice and some of us, including myself, are pondering the first of the month with certain dread.
There is a general sense of uneasiness,
Ed Padgett works as a pressman at the L.A. Times’ Olympic Boulevard printing plant – a third-generation employee who has been with the paper 39 years. He currently blogs at his site, Los Angeles Pressmens 20 Year Club. Padgett began posting messages in 1990, before the advent of the Internet, because, he says, “I was getting a bit bored.” His tedium vanished in 2008 when, after press operators voted to join the Teamsters (the first union shop on Times property since 1967), Times managers began, he said, continual attempts to fire union members on a variety of workplace rule infringements.
What’s happening at the Times these days?
They’re expecting a really bad fourth quarter. The senior vice president told us we’ve got three years more of printing the hard copy Times before they shut it down.
I’ve been an electrician since 1999. I’ve worked on many kinds of jobs, the most rewarding being a few schools I helped build from the ground up. But those jobs are rare these days. These are the toughest times I’ve seen, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up.
The recession has hit construction so hard we can hardly believe it. In the last few years, I’ve only worked about four months out of the year. I’m on the list at the union hall. There used to be enough work to keep most of us busy, but now when a job opens up there are about 80 people on the books ready to take it. I think I’m number 82, so I’m not expecting a project to come through for quite a while.
Four months a year isn’t enough to get by on.
When I woke up this September 11 I turned on MSNBC. It was replaying the news coverage that took place that day 10 years before. I found myself glued to the TV once again. I felt sad not only for the innocent lives lost in 2001 but also for what followed. The wars, the death of innocent civilians, the torture and the greed for oil sent our country down a very ugly path. We have been trying to find our way back ever since. Today we have to live with the impact of 9/11, but we also have to deal with the impact of reckless financial practices fueled by greed that has resulted in the Great Recession.
Most would agree that our country will never be the same as a result of what happened on 9/11. Yet it can also be argued that the current recession will equally alter “the American way of life” forever.
On the alternate Earth where some pundits live, the worst thing to ever befall Americans during the Great Depression was the New Deal. To them, federal recovery programs were wasteful extravagances that straight-jacketed men of wealth from creating jobs while inventing a nation of loafers. Some revisionist historians have even suggested that the Depression wasn’t as bad as people say it was – at least not Grapes of Wrath bad. These Depression deniers and the fairy tales they spread on talk radio and in blogs help explain why today’s political wilderness rings with the sound of falling axes as Congress merrily chops down the social programs that protect the poor, unemployed and injured.
Men and women grow old and die, but there are documents, both large and small, that loudly declare these new interpretations of the Depression to be the myths they are. One of the small but forceful records is White Collar,
Imagine your neighbor, your neighbor’s neighbor and their neighbor . . . plus the most disgusting fast-food joint you can envision (Grade C in the window), the nearest gas station, the local pet store and an auto repair shop to boot.
Now, imagine all their trash coming at you on an endless conveyor belt – faster than chocolates on I Love Lucy .
Your job: to dig in and pull out the recyclables.
Thousands of workers, often immigrant Latinas, do this all day, every day, at material recovery facilities (MRFs) across Southern California. Many of these MRFs are grim, post-apocalyptic jalopy buildings that would have been perfect as sets for Blade Runner.
The workers are called “sorters,” and they’re at the front line of a shadow industry that desperately needs to be reigned in. They sort and sort and sort .
I’m a professional green jobs advocate. On my way out the door every day, I tell whoever will listen that I’m going to work to stop global warming and create thousands of jobs. So what are green jobs?
Since it’s a matter that very much concerns the next generation, I asked a young representative that I found sitting on my couch watching pre-season football.
Even with this important distraction, my 11-year-old son managed: “It’s a job that helps the environment.”
Okay. But what are some examples?
“I don’t know,” said the rep. “Planting trees? Maintaining solar panels?”
That’s more information than the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to offer, although it is reportedly working on coming up with a green jobs measurement. In the meantime, the Brookings Institute released a study that undertook the task of counting green economy jobs. They identified 2.7 million workers nationally in sectors they determined to be green: waste management and treatment,
Last May, at a public meeting the National Park Service held in Oxnard to gather stories about the farmworkers movement, a man in his 50s came up to Martha Crusius. He told her about a rally he’d attended with his parents, migrant workers from Mexico, back in the 1960s.
“He was a little kid back then, and he really didn’t understand it,” Crusius says. “But he remembered that there was this small, soft-spoken Mexican guy leading the rally, and he was someone people really looked up to.” While listening to others testify at the meeting, he realized what he’d witnessed. “That man,” he told Crusius, “was Cesar Chavez.”
Crusius is director of the National Park Service’s Cesar Chavez Special Resource Study, an effort to curate and preserve the legacy of the iconic civil rights leader and United Farm Workers co-founder for future generations. It’s an effort that fits neatly,
I grew up on the western edge of South Central, near Century Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. My block was full of local government workers—sanitation, probation, school district. I don’t know if the private-sector folks were unionized, but their wages were competitive enough to allow them to buy houses in the area, a scenario made possible by the standards set by unions that, from my perspective, were becoming mainstream. Part of that standard was hiring blacks as a matter of course.
It hardly needs to be said that today’s focused attack by the Right on unions all over the country is an attack on the working and middle classes. Public employee unions are the big target now because the private sector unions have frankly become too puny over the last generation to pose much of a threat any more to the corporate powers that be, which have expanded as rapidly—more rapidly, actually– as unions have dwindled.
The Frying Pan recently visited John Hernandez, the owner of a State Farm Insurance agency in Pacoima, a blue-collar community located in the North San Fernando Valley. He is also a member of the Pacoima Chamber of Commerce, Arleta Neighborhood Council, Pacoima Neighborhood Council, LAPD Foothill Area Booster Association and a member business of Icon Community Development Corp.
Frying Pan: You opened your insurance office in July 2010 — why open in such tough economic times?
John Hernandez: I guess you could say I have that entrepreneurial spirit — being in the business for over 20 years, I felt the need to open my own. I wanted to come to a community where there was no presence from other major carriers. I felt like there was a need in Pacoima for affordable insurance and a preferred carrier. I have four employees, so I was also focused on bringing some jobs to the community.