2019: A year of triumph and hard work

By Sheri Williams

As 2019 draws to a close, Sacramento’s Labor community is reflecting back on a year filled with hard work, organizing and success.

“While workers’ rights across the country are under attack, here in Sacramento and across California, we are fighting and winning battles to ensure working families have the safe, stable futures they deserve,” said Fabrizio Sasso, head of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. “I am so proud of the work we do here in our Council and our city, to make sure not just union members but everyone in our communities is treated with fairness and equity.”

The year was marked by a number of organizing campaigns that included strikes and pickets. Sacramento teachers continued their battle with the district over fair pay and a fair contract, and took to the picket lines earlier in the year.

Across the state, teachers united to fight for funding for schools. In May, more than a thousand teachers and their supporters marched at the Capitol to fight for adequate money in schools.

University of California workers held several strikes, most recently in November, when healthcare workers across the state walked out to protest outsourcing of jobs.

Labor also organized to protect communities, especially around immigrant detentions by the federal government.

“We stood with our federal workers when there was a government shutdown, we stood for our immigrant brothers and sisters as they are being detained. We stand against the NAFTA 2.0, that wants to outsource more jobs from this country,” said Sasso earlier this year.

Labor was also a crucial partner in California’s fight to change its use of force laws, which was accomplished through Assembly Bill 392. It prohibits law enforcement from using deadly force except when necessary, rather than simply reasonable.

“Every one of these battles is important because they affect the lives of thousands of working people, and we will continue to fight with and stand with our allies,” said Sasso.

Other wins came at the bargaining table. Tens of thousands of Kaiser Permanente union workers in California and across the nation won a contract with the health care giant that brings wage increases and protections. But it took SEIU-UHW members and their allies hitting the picket lines in May before the health care giant relented.

Firefighters Local 522 also put in place a new agreement, giving local firefighters a strong contract. But firefighters are continuing to push for increased staffing levels to address the growing population and building boom in the region.

On the state level, one of the biggest successes was the passage of Assembly Bill 5, which prevents so-called “gig economy” companies such as Uber and Lyft from misclassifying their workers as independent contractors. The new law is already being emulated across the country and promises to give workers critical protections now and in the future.

“Passing AB 5 was a huge win for Labor,” said Sasso. “It means greedy corporations can’t exploit their workers with subpar wages and benefits just by claiming they aren’t employees.”

With the Building Trades, 2019 has shown the power of Project Labor Agreements. Throughout the region, dozens of local and state projects are underway that will employ union members for years to come.

“Project Labor agreements are one of the key ways we protect our members, ensure they are treated fairly, and help our communities to grow stronger,” said Kevin Ferreira, executive director of the Sacramento-Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council. “These agreements change lives by bringing new members into our ranks and ensuring we are strong for the future.”

Ferreira said upcoming projects include multiple state government buildings in the downtown area, as well as the Railyards development, where a soccer stadium and a hospital will go.

“The Building Trades and their members are strong and only growing stronger,” said Ferreira. “It is a terrific time to be a union construction worker.”

Other statewide wins for Labor included more than a dozen measures that both protect and improve workers’ rights. At the beginning of the New Year, workers can no longer be forced to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment, thanks to Assembly Bill 51. That means if an employer behaves in a way that requires legal action, employees have that necessary protection available.

Childcare workers also won an important right to organize after a long struggle. Beginning in 2020, those workers will now have the right to unionize, giving providers the job security and economic stability they need to provide this crucial service to working families.

Janitors also triumphed in another long struggle to ensure workers are safe from sexual harassment and assault on the job. A years’ long campaign led to the enactment of Assembly Bill 547, which requires Labor Agencies to develop sexual assault and harassment prevention training for the janitorial industry.

Another victory went to workers in the entertainment industry, where a coalition of entertainment industry unions won state disability insurance and paid family leave to those who must work out of state.

IBEW 1245 successfully passed a measure that created additional safety oversight for utility infrastructure in the wake of devastating forest fires. Assembly Bill 1054 will authorize an electrical corporation and ratepayer funded Wildfire Fund to help cover future costs related to wildfire liabilities.

A school bond measure that will be on the November ballot was another Labor success. Assembly Bill 48 authorizes a $15 billion educational school facilities bond to go before voters next fall, providing the money needed to protect and grow California’s K-12 system as well as community and state colleges.

Sasso also drew attention to the Sacramento Central Labor Council’s partnership with the United Way. The organizations partner multiple times each year to provide community aid including the toilet paper drive, a canned food drive, and a food pantry for those in need. Labor also helps prepare and serve meals each year at Loaves and Fishes.

“For yet another year, this amazing partnership has helped Labor reach out to those in need,” said Sasso. “And the United Way is always there to help our members. It’s an important relationship that benefits so many.”