Year ends with solidary and strength for Sacramento union workers

By Sheri Williams

Sacramento’s Labor community won many victories and achieved significant accomplishments throughout the year, ending 2018 with union jobs growing in the region and members showing new solidarity and energy.

Throughout the year, the Sacramento Central Labor Council and other Labor organizations focused their efforts on elections and putting in place candidates and laws that protect and benefit working Californians.

That effort began early in the year with a drive to get more union members to register to vote. As the June primary approached, members doubled down on their efforts by reaching out directly to other union members, walking precincts and manning phone banks.

Hundreds of dedicated volunteers spent countless hours this year, never faltering as November approached.

By the final push with a Get-Out-The-Vote week, phone banks were a daily occurrence and thousands of doors throughout the Sacramento region were knocked on for local and statewide candidates.

That energy paid off as Labor-friendly candidates and causes swept the state, proving that California is and will remain a haven for working women and men.

For the Building Trades, a phenomenal win came in August when the Sacramento City Council passed a citywide Project Labor Agreement. The new agreement ensures that all large public projects in the city will be built with union labor. Already, at least two projects are underway, and the multi-million dollar expansion of the Convention Center is slated to begin in December.

The year that ended with strength began that way as well.

On January 1, California put into effect multiple laws that Labor had fought hard to win in 2017. Those included an increase in minimum wage for companies with more than 26 employees to $11 per hour, on its way to $15 in several years.

On the healthcare front, California unions took on Big Pharma and won by pushing for the passage of SB 17, a new law that requires pharmaceutical companies to provide 60 days notice and a justification before raising a drug price more than 16 percent over two years.

Labor also helped with the passage of SB 306 (Hertzberg), which protects workers who are fired for being whistleblowers by allowing them to seek immediate reinstatement based on the chilling effect the firing would have on the entire workforce.

Labor continued its fight for equality in the streets, when thousands of women and men turned out in downtown Sacramento for the Women’s March on Jan. 21, just after President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

California nurses made their presence known at the event, which drew more than 36,000 people, using the rally to push for single-payer health care as a right for all.

“I am a proud black woman of color, a registered nurse for 38 years, and I have seen the cost of human suffering when people have to decide between paying high copays to seek medical treatment vs. paying their rent to stay in their homes,” said Cathy Kennedy, RN and Vice President of National Nurses United, speaking before the crowd gathered at the State Capitol.

Nurses soon after joined other unions to fight for safety at University of California. In Sacramento, nurses were joined by members of AFSCME 3299, UPTE and the Sacramento Central Labor Council for a rally at the Medical Center near Oak Park, where nearly 400 people turned out in support.

Nurses had been working without a contract at all University of California facilities since September, but won a fair new agreement this year.

Nurses union representative Shirley Toy told the Sacramento Bee that, “The key sticking points are the many takeaways that UC is trying to obtain.”

AFSCME 3299 and UPTE, who also faced contract negotiations, followed them onto the strike line months later.

When AFSCME and UPTE went on strike, news outlet CalMatters revealed a shocking study: Black and Latina service and patient care workers at the University of California are more likely to be fired, less likely to be promoted and earn bigger salary bumps after changing jobs, they found.

“We are here on strike fighting for our dignity in the workplace. We are here for our families and for our future. This strike matters because there is an increasing wealth gap between the rich and the working class. The only way to stand up to these large institutions is by showing up and bonding together with our brothers and sisters. We are here to uplift ourselves and the people,” said AFSCME 3299 member Ivan Casanova.

Union members also hit the streets early in the year in support of immigrants’ rights when then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to Sacramento to announce his plans to sue our state over sanctuary laws. Hundreds of protesters met him in the downtown area, voicing support for Labor sisters and brothers who were born in other countries.

California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said, “In California, our values dictate our public policy. We won’t be silent while Attorney General Jeff Sessions attacks hard-working immigrants to score political points for a morally bankrupt administration. California unions were proud to help lead the charge for new laws, including the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, that protect immigrants from being ripped away from their families as a result of the inhumane policies of Donald Trump. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Gov. Jerry Brown, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and legislative leaders to vigorously defend these laws. No one should live in fear simply for going to work to earn a living for her family. Today, we’re sending a clear message to Sessions and Trump: In California we respect and protect all working people. Period.”

Union members also celebrated early in the year when U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup temporarily blocked the Trump Administration’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on January 9, 2018, and restored protections to hundreds of thousands of deserving immigrants pending a final decision by the court.

The judge’s decision came in response to a motion filed jointly by SEIU Local 521 on behalf of our members and the County of Santa Clara in October, and four more lawsuits from individual DACA recipients, the State of California, the University of California, and the City of San Jose. This legal action is the first in the nation filed jointly by an employer and a labor union on behalf of DACA beneficiary employees. 

“This decision is a major victory for DACA holders. It recognizes that the government can’t first promise DACA recipients a future in this country, and then abruptly rip that future away. This victory will go a long way to prevent further harm to our workers and the community we serve in our jobs as we continue to fight to keep DACA alive,” said Riko Mendez, SEIU Local 521 Chief Elected Officer at the time.

June brought hard news for unions across the country when the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Janus case, effectively allowing free-riders in unions. Many anti-union forces celebrated this ruling as the demise of American unionism, but unions were ready. For months, union leaders across California had been reaching out to members and running campaigns to remind them of the benefits of being in a union, from job protections to heath care and fair wages. The messages paid off. Despite the ruling, union membership in California has remained strong, proving that workers believe in and know the value of their unions.

A groundbreaking report this summer from the UC Berkeley Labor Center underscores the advantages of union membership in California. While the research focuses on the Golden State, the outcomes are critical to understand for our entire nation. California is both the fifth largest economy in the world and one of the states with the highest union density. It’s clear that when working people can stand together in a union, the benefits are astronomical for everyone. The report found that workers covered by a union contract in California earn an average of 12.9 percent more than their non-union peers with similar ages and educational attainment working in similar industries. Overall, a union contract increases an individual worker’s annual earnings by $5,800, for a combined total of $18.5 billion across California. In low-income regions like the San Joaquin Valley, the difference is more dramatic, increasing a worker’s earnings on average by $7,000 each year.

The study also found that 670,000 more Californians have health insurance through their employer as a result of collective bargaining and 830,000 more Californians are offered a retirement plan by their employer as a result of collective bargaining.

Unions also decrease by 30.6 percent the likelihood that a worker is in a family where at least one member is enrolled in a public safety net program, compared to non-union workers with similar demographic characteristics and working in similar industries.

In July, Governor Jerry Brown gave a boost to union apprenticeship programs in this year’s final budget with nearly $50 million dollars to support the essential training programs.

Among the programs that will see increased funding are Building Trades apprenticeships and the California Firefighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee (Cal-JAC).

The governor had proposed the increases in January, including $17.8 million for K-12 and community college apprenticeship programs, and an additional one-time bump of $30.6 million to backfill shortfalls in payments from prior years.

In September, local Sacramento union members saw a win when UNITE HERE Local 49 members at the Holiday Inn Sacramento Downtown Arena won a great contract that gives them job security if the hotel is sold. ¡Si Se Puede! 

One of the year’s best moments came in October at the Salute to Labor Dinner, which honored icons including Dolores Huerta.

Also honored for his decades of service was Dick Mayberry from Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522. Mayberry has been a delegate to the Sacramento Central Labor Council for over 46 years. This year, we honored him at our annual Salute to Labor dinner with the Legacy Award.

As the year draws to a close, the Sacramento Labor community wants to again thank Dick for his leadership in making the Labor Movement stronger in our region.