By Sheri Williams
As the second year of the pandemic draws to a close, the family of Labor in Sacramento and across California is looking back on a time filled with both challenges and successes—and planning for the work ahead.
“This has been another difficult year for working families,” said Fabrizio Sasso, executive director of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. “But we have also had tremendous victories, and shown that hard times only increase our determination and solidarity.”
In Sacramento, 2021 started off with mourning. The pandemic continued to hit essential workers, and Black and brown communities, especially hard, even as those workers were forced to do their jobs in person every day. The family of Labor was also mourning the death of Dean Murakami, who passed away last December, and is remembered as an icon of the Labor movement. Within months, in April, Sacramento lost another Labor titan, Al Rojas. Not long after, California Federation of Teachers lost one of its own beloved members, Kenneth Burt. May they rest in power.
Despite that difficult beginning, Labor leaders and activists did what they do best—organize and fight. January saw Democrats celebrate the hard work of the 2020 election when Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were sworn in as Georgia’s senators after a stunning defeat of Republicans orchestrated in no small part by Labor. Members of Sacramento’s Labor community were on the ground in Georgia helping with that fight, knowing that the fate of Congress depended on the win.
That sense of hope grew as President Joe Biden, a longtime ally of Labor, was sworn into office, leading one Sacramento labor activist to proclaim, “I am so hopeful for our country! I am proud to be an American again.”
The California Labor Federation added to that sentiment, saying, “The path out of this crisis will be paved by working people standing together in a union. Workers need a voice on the job and a seat at the table more than ever. There is a lot of work to be done, but we’re extremely optimistic—the future is union strong.”
Biden shortly after introduced the PRO Act (Protect the Right to Organize Act, HR 842), the most comprehensive piece of pro-worker legislation in decades. Fighting for its passage will be a top priority in the year to come.
But there are also still fights to be won locally. In Sacramento, the Fight for $15 pushed on with support from SEIU 1021, which called for hazard pay for workers at Burger King and other fast food restaurants.
At Sacramento State and UC Davis, workers also continued their fight for fair conditions and pay. Teachers, medical professionals and others all battled for protections and rights, even as the virus pushed many events into the virtual world.
“It’s wrong to have to choose between a paycheck or your family,” said Sacramento State employee Michael Castanon during one such event.
That fight for workers’ rights continued all year, with the push to pass AB 257, the FAST Recovery Act.
The Sacramento Central Labor Council and allies also pushed forward on helping workers understand their rights, including unemployment benefits for the many who were unable to work.
Union members also got busy getting vaccines into the arms of other union members. With a state grant, unions opened a vaccine clinic in conjunction with Natomas Unified School District. SEIU USWW Sacramento, UNITE HERE Local 49, Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522, California Nurses Association, UFCW 8-Golden State, Sacramento Area Local 0066, APWU, National Association of Letter Carriers 133, IBEW Local 1245, UDW Home Care Providers Union, AFGE District 12, IUOE Local 39, SEIU Local 1000 and SEIU Local 1021 were just some of the unions that participated. More than 30,000 vaccines were giving through this effort.
The Sacramento Central Labor Council and the Building Trades were also at the forefront of creating a plan for Aggie Square, the enormous development project for UC Davis near Oak Park. Through determination and many discussions, a community benefits agreement was hammered out for that union project, which will ensure long-term union jobs at the new facility, and affordable housing commitments that will help the neighborhood be a place where working families can thrive. Construction is expected to start next year.
“Aggie Square is a tremendous project for our Building Trades members and the entire community of Labor,” said Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades executive director Kevin Ferreira. “We’re excited to get started.”
In April, former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of George Floyd, bringing a measure of closure to a horrific killing that has forever changed the country. Though the injustice of Floyd’s death cannot be undone, the verdict was a measure of relief in a time of uncertainty.
“The Sacramento Central Labor Council forever stands in solidarity with our Black worker family. Though we understand that this is not justice, we recognize that this is a monumental step forward for social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Sasso the time.
By fall, there was one looming fight on everyone’s mind: The anti-union recall. Republican forces threw millions of dollars into removing Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, in a direct attempt to crush worker power. But unions fought back, and fought hard. Thousands of union workers in Sacramento and across the state went to work to defeat the recall, knocking on doors, making phone calls, talking to friends and family about what was really behind the attempt to remove Newsom.
In September, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre joined Sacramento Labor activists to fight the recall.
“We can’t leave anything for chance,” he said. “This recall is about you. … this recall is about stealing every penny out of your pockets and we can’t let that happen.”
That effort paid off—the recall was soundly defeated and California Labor showed it is not just organized and powerful, but made it clear that when we fight, we win.
As we look forward to 2022, more work remains to be done. Stationary Engineers Local 39 is still on strike against Kaiser, with the full support of the Labor community. Midterm elections, with new districts upending races, will happen in critical areas where we must fight to elect Labor-friendly candidates.
Here in Sacramento, the SCLC has made two early endorsements already: Jaclyn Moreno for Sacramento County Supervisor District 5 and Alana Mathews for Sacramento District Attorney.
“I am hopeful next year brings better conditions for working people in Sacramento and California,” said Sasso. “It’s our job to be the leaders in that fight, and we are ready for the challenge.”