Wanted: Community Jobs Policy For San Francisco

A POWER demonstration in Bayview-Hunter’s Point. Courtesy of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER).For decades, San Francisco has had a goal of using a workforce that is at least 50 percent local resident on its publicly-funded construction projects. But the city has always relied on the “good faith efforts” of contractors to deliver on this objective. Now, a report released in August of this year by Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Brightline Defense Project (“The Failure of Good Faith: Local Hiring Policy Analysis and Recommendations for San Francisco”) shows that the good faith approach has not worked.[1]  In fact, based on a survey of 5.3 million job hours, the report confirms something that community advocates have known anecdotally for years.

For the seven years since 2003, the average local hire figures on city-funded construction is less than 25 percent and actually dipped below 20 percent for 2009. Clearly, say community leaders and job advocates, it is time for San Francisco to come up with a Community Jobs Policy.

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Structural Racism and Leadership

The election of our first African American president has sparked debate over how far we have come as a nation on issues of race. Some suggest that we are in a post-racial society, but this assumption has not been supported by recent census statistics. While one in seven people in the U.S. are now living in poverty,[1] statistics show that African Americans and Latinos have fared worse during the recession.

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and chief executive officer of PolicyLink points out, if you look deeper at the data, the story of who has actually been “hit hardest” is clear:

  • More than one in four Blacks and Hispanics live below the poverty line.
  • Hispanics saw the biggest jump in poverty (2.1 percent).
  • Biggest drop in real income was among Blacks and non-citizens (4.4 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively).[2]

This discussion naturally raises questions about the role of leadership development programs to address the racial divide in this country. Many such programs in the nonprofit sector have extended their reach and recruited more people of color, but more could be done. A deliberate approach to diversifying leadership programs would do much to mitigate the history of exclusion that has kept people of color underrepresented in leadership positions in the public and private sectors and also help level the playing field by providing them with new skills and resources and access to influential networks.

Federal Raids Against Immigrants on the Rise

By David Bacon

While the criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country. The number of workplace raids carried out by the Obama administration is staggering. Tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of workers have been fired for not having papers. According to public records obtained by Syracuse University, the latest available data from the Justice Department show that criminal immigration enforcement by the two largest investigative agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has increased to levels comparable to the highest seen during the Bush Administration.[1]

In a recent action the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pressured one of San Francisco’s major building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their jobs in the near future.

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Domestic Workers: “Organizing with Love”

Great organizing campaigns are like great love affairs. You begin to see life through a different lens. You change in unexpected ways. You lose sleep, but you also feel boundless energy. You develop new relationships and new interests. Your skin becomes more open to the world around you. Life feels different, and it’s almost like you’ve been reborn. And, most importantly, you begin to feel things that you previously couldn’t have even imagined are possible. Like great love affairs, great campaigns provide us with an opportunity for transformation. They connect us to our deeper purpose and to the commonalities we share, even in the face of tremendous differences. They highlight our interdependence and they help us to see the potential that our relationships have to create real change in our lives and in the world around us.”—Ai-jen Poo, Domestic Workers United. From Organizing with Love: Lessons from the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Campaign.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which took effect in November 2010, is a massive and unprecedented win for the new labor movement—and it is a model for the way organizers and lawmakers alike must begin to think about workers’ rights in the 21st century economy.

The New York law guarantees nannies, housekeepers, and home health aides weekly time off and subjects employers to state law for minimum-wage violations and sexual harassment. These are all basic rights that traditional, full-time employees have long enjoyed, but that a broad swath of workers who are not protected by labor laws have never seen. In August, the California State Assembly passed a resolution recognizing similar labor standards for domestic workers, rights that lawmakers will likely codify as state law next year. Organizers in other states are working to generate more such victories.

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Women Re-energize the Movement: Panel Discussion

It’s not enough to have mass movements.... To really make a difference, the proposals, the organizing have to reside in entities that can garner participation and lead democratically."

As part of RP&E’s 20th anniversary commemoration, we decided to review the origins of key social movements over the past few decades and their trajectories into the future. The ensuing panel discussion with three generations of women activists looks at the intersection of race and class with gender, and how women’s participation in social justice movements has (or has not) empowered women workers, especially working class women of color and immigrant women.

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Aileen Clarke Hernandez is a union organizer and civil rights activist. In 1964, she became the first (and at that time, only) woman member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She is a past president of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the State Chair Emeritus of the California Women’s Agenda (CAWA). She is a founder of Black Women Stirring the Waters and Chair of the Coalition for Economic Equity, which advocates for increased government contracting opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses.
Catherine Tactaquin is the executive director and a co-founder of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Her commitment to immigrant rights is motivated by her experience as the U.S.-born daughter of immigrant farm workers from the Philippines. She was involved for many years in grassroots organizing and advocacy in the Filipino community on issues of discrimination and foreign policy.
Juliet Ellis is executive director of Urban Habitat, an organization that builds power in low-income communities and communities of color by combining education, advocacy, research, and coalition-building to advance environmental, economic, and social justice in the Bay Area. She is also a member of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The Case for Holistic Economic Transformation

Marta Castillo has been a worker-owner of Natural Home Cleaning (NHC) for three years and served on its Board of Directors for two years. In addition to the hours she puts in cleaning houses with non-toxic cleaning products, she spends time with the other worker-owners coordinating the worker and owner aspects of the business. This work has provided much more than a stable income for Castillo who lost her daughter to an illness shortly after coming to this country from Guatemala. “I was in a depression,” she says. “Becoming a member of the NHC cooperative helped me to keep busy and to recover.”

Castillo and the other women of the coop are creating meaningful work for themselves out of one of the lowest-paid, most isolating, and often dangerous industries by using nontoxic cleaning supplies and improving worker control over working conditions. This sort of holistic transformation of everyday work on a planetary scale will be the key to overcoming the ecological crisis that now confronts our species because of our ever-expanding industrial extraction, production, and waste generation. Humanity needs to channel its growth not toward increasing material consumption but toward core human values.

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Green Jobs Platform for Solar Energy

When you see a solar panel installer on a roof you probably think, “green job.” After all, the solar panel will help reduce climate change impacts and provide a renewable source of energy. You assume that the worker is receiving a living wage and health benefits and has an opportunity for advancement.

The job looks safe and the product looks green. But what if the worker in China, India, or Mexico who made the solar panel was exposed to toxic chemicals, could not afford healthcare, and was denied a living wage and basic labor rights?

As of now, there is no definition for a “green job” that includes consideration for the environmental justice and health impacts on workers, or for the communities where solar products are made or recycled. And without consideration of these issues, the “green job” concept, which has been an important vision for a change from “business as usual,” risks becoming a form of “green wash.”

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