More than any other place, California is well positioned to push back against the agenda of the incoming president. In this special series, Capital & Main examines why and how the Golden State will both lead the resistance to Donald Trump and continue to advance progressive ideas and policies.
There are many student cars parked at and around Sir Francis Drake High School — some of them expensive BMWs, some environmentally correct Priuses. But when Justice Levine attended classes at this Marin County school, she had to walk to Drake, passing rows of expensive San Anselmo homes. That was nearly seven years ago. Then 14, she would wake up in the morning to an empty house and make her own breakfast — her mother had already left for work for the day.
This is an encore posting from our State of Inequality series
Their rented home — one floor of a modest two-story house — was not well-furnished, most of its fixtures were secondhand and it lacked the semblance of interior decorating. Now 21, Levine describes it as a space she and her mother occupied separately for a long time,
Our friend showed up late in the evening from Northern California to spend a couple of days with us before pushing on in a long-planned vacation. But when I woke up the next morning, he had been up for hours. I found him surrounded by three screens and his cell phone – solving a tech problem for his company.
“Auspicious beginning of a vacation,” I said. “I thought you were supposed to leave all that behind.”
“Oh, no,” he said, “not at my pay level.”
And so it goes. “No rest for the weary and the wicked go free.” That was an oft repeated phrase an early mentor in work mumbled as he sipped on yet another cup of coffee and ran to yet another customer. He may have been obsessive and wired, but he only worked a 40-hour week. None of us worked more, except the boss now and then.
In March, seven class action lawsuits filed in California, Michigan and New York suggested that for the country’s 30 million-strong low-wage workforce, getting one’s paycheck ripped off by some of the largest and wealthiest employers in America is too often business as usual.
Contending that the McDonald’s restaurant chain had been “systematically stealing” from its workers, the suits detailed company-wide practices of managers regularly ordering employees to work off the clock, shaving hours from their time cards and not paying overtime. Three of the California suits also claimed that McDonald’s and its franchise owners illegally altered pay records and denied employees meal periods and rest breaks. Other plaintiffs alleged McDonald’s used a sophisticated computer program that monitored real-time sales volume: When sales dropped below a certain level during any given hour, attorneys said, some managers would routinely order workers from the incoming shift to not punch in for an hour or two until there were more customers.
California has roughly a dozen labor codes governing wage-theft on the books, with more proposed each year in the state legislature. Are these laws proving effective? Fausto Hernandez is one worker who doesn’t think they are. The 55-year-old native of Oaxaca, Mexico, has labored in the carwash business for a decade.
“For several years I worked at Slauson Carwash in South L.A. — 10 to 11 hours a day,” he told Capital & Main. “The employer would only pay me for three hours, never for all the hours I worked.”
According to Hernandez, he sought relief by contacting the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, a community coalition led by the United Steelworkers union. The campaign helped him file a claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), an office of the state’s Labor Commissioner.
Workers who take such action face employer retaliation. Hernandez’s employer fired him, he said.