Domestic Workers

Tom’s legacy


At a moment when San Francisco politics has slid toward the slippery center — when one-time progressives align with business elites, the political rhetoric seems hollow, and the vaunted value of “civility” in City Hall increasingly looks more like a deceptive power grab by the Mayor’s Office — it feels so refreshing to talk with Tom Ammiano.

For one thing, he’s hilarious, always quick with quips that are not only funny, but often funny in insightful ways that distill complex issues down to their essence, delivered with his distinctive nasally honk and lightning timing. Ammiano developed as a stand-up comedian and political leader simultaneously, and the two professional sides feed off each other, alternatively manifesting in disarming mirth or penetrating bite.

But his humor isn’t the main reason why Ammiano — a 72-year-old state legislator, two-time mayoral candidate, and former supervisor and school board member — has become such a beloved figure on the left of state and local politics, or why so many progressives are sad to see him leaving the California Assembly and elected office this year for the first time since 1990.

No, perhaps the biggest reason why public esteem for Ammiano has been strong and rising — particularly among progressives, but also among those of all ideological stripes who decry the closed-door dealmaking that dominates City Hall and the State Capitol these days — is his political integrity and courage. Everyone knows where Tom Ammiano will stand on almost any issue: with the powerless over the powerful.

“Don’t make it about yourself, make it about what you believe in,” Ammiano told us, describing his approach to politics and his advice to up-and-coming politicians.

Ammiano’s positions derive from his progressive political values, which were informed by his working class upbringing, first-hand observations of the limits of American militarism, publicly coming out as a gay teacher at time when that was a risky decision, standing with immigrants and women at important political moments, and steadily enduring well-funded attacks as he created some of San Francisco’s most defining and enduring political reforms, from domestic partner benefits and key political reforms to universal health care.

“He has been able to remain true to his values and principles of the progressive movement while making significant legislative accomplishments happen on a number of fronts,” Sup. David Campos, who replaced Ammiano on the Board of Supervisors and is now his chosen successor in the California Assembly, told the Guardian. “I don’t know that we’ve fully understood the scope of his influence. He has influenced the city more than most San Francisco mayors have.”

So, as we enter the traditional start of fall election season — with its strangely uncontested supervisorial races and only a few significant ballot measures, thanks to insider political manipulations — the Guardian spent some time with Ammiano in San Francisco and in Sacramento, talking about his life and legacy and what can be done to revive the city’s progressive spirit.




Aug. 20 was a pretty typical day in the State Capitol, perhaps a bit more relaxed than usual given that most of the agenda was concurrence votes by the full Senate and Assembly on bills they had already approved once before being amended by the other house.

Still, lobbyists packed the hall outside the Assembly Chambers, hoping to exert some last minute influence before the legislative session ended (most don’t bother with Ammiano, whose name is on a short list, posted in the hall by the Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms, of legislators who don’t accept business cards from lobbyists).

One of the bills up for approval that day was Ammiano’s Assembly Bill 2344, the Modern Family Act, which in many ways signals how far California has come since the mid-’70s, when Ammiano was an openly gay schoolteacher and progressive political activist working with then-Sup. Harvey Milk to defeat the homophobic Briggs Initiative.

The Modern Family Act updates and clarifies the laws governing same-sex married couples and domestic partners who adopt children or use surrogates, standardizing the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved. “With a few simple changes, we can help families thrive without needless legal battles or expensive court actions,” Ammiano said in a press statement publicizing the bill.

Ammiano arrived in his office around 10am, an hour before the session began, carrying a large plaque commending him for his legislative service, given to outgoing legislators during a breakfast program. “Something else I don’t need,” Ammiano said, setting the plaque down on a table in his wood-paneled office. “I wonder if there’s a black market for this shit.”

Before going over the day’s legislative agenda, Ammiano chatted with his Press Secretary Carlos Alcala about an editorial in that morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, “Abuse of disabled-parking program demands legislators act,” which criticized Ammiano for seeking minor changes in a city plan to start charging for disabled placards before he would sponsor legislation to implement it. The editorial even snidely linked Ammiano to disgraced Sen. Leland Yee, who is suspended and has nothing to do with the issue.

“I’ve had these tussles with the Chronicle from day one. They just want people to be angry with me,” Ammiano told us. “You stand up for anything progressive and they treat you like a piñata.”

He thought the criticism was ridiculous — telling Alcala, “If we do a response letter, using the words puerile and immature would be good” — and that it has as much to do with denigrating Ammiano, and thus Campos and other progressives, as the issue at hand.

“Anything that gets people mad at me hurts him,” Ammiano told us.

But it’s awfully hard to be mad at Tom Ammiano. Even those on the opposite side of the political fence from him and who clash with him on the issues or who have been subjected to his caustic barbs grudgingly admit a respect and admiration for Ammiano, even Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who told the Guardian as much when we ran into him on the streets of Sacramento later that day.

Ammiano says he rarely gets rattled by his critics, or even the handful of death threats that he’s received over the years, including the one that led the San Francisco Police Department to place a protective detail on him during the 1999 mayor’s race.

“You are buoyed by what you do, and that compensates for other feelings you have,” Ammiano said of safety concerns.

Finally ready to prepare for the day’s business, he shouts for his aides in the other room (“the New York intercom,” he quips). The first question is whether he’s going to support a bill sponsored by PG&E’s union to increase incentives for geothermal projects in the state, a jobs bill that most environmental groups opposed.

“That is a terrible bill, it’s total shit, and I’m not going to support it,” Ammiano tells his aide. “It’s a scam.”

As Ammiano continued to prepare for the day’s session, we headed down to the Assembly floor to get ready to cover the action, escorted by Alcala. We asked what he planned to do after Ammiano leaves Sacramento, and Alcala told us that he’ll look at working for another legislator, “but there would probably be a lot more compromises.”




Compromises are part of politics, but Ammiano has shown that the best legislative deals come without compromising one’s political principles. Indeed, some of his most significant accomplishments have involved sticking to his guns and quietly waiting out his critics.

For all the brassy charm of this big personality — who else could publicly confront then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Democratic Party fundraiser in 2009 and tell him to “kiss my gay ass!” — Ammiano has usually done the work in a way that wasn’t showy or self-centered.

By championing the reinstatement of district supervisorial elections and waging an improbable but electrifying write-in campaign for mayor in 1999 (finishing second before losing to incumbent Willie Brown in the runoff election), Ammiano set the stage for progressives to finally win control of the Board of Supervisors in 2000 and keep it for the next eight years, forming an effective counterbalance to Gavin Newsom’s pro-business mayoralty.

“I just did it through intuition,” Ammiano said of his 1999 mayoral run, when he jumped into the race just two weeks before election day. “There was a lot of electricity.”

After he made the runoff, Brown and his allies worked aggressively to keep power, leaning on potential Ammiano supporters, calling on then-President Bill Clinton to campaign for Brown, and even having Jesse Jackson call Ammiano late one night asking him to drop out.

“That’s when we realized Willie really felt threatened by us,” Ammiano said, a fear that was well-founded given that Ammiano’s loss in the runoff election led directly into a slate of progressives elected to the Board of Supervisors the next year. “It was a pyrrhic victory for him because then the board changed.”

But Ammiano didn’t seize the spotlight in those heady years that followed, which often shone on the younger political upstarts in the progressive movement — particularly Chris Daly, Matt Gonzalez, and Aaron Peskin — who were more willing to aggressively wage rhetorical war against Newsom and his downtown constituents.

By the time the 2003 mayor’s race came, Ammiano’s mayoral campaign became eclipsed by Gonzalez jumping into the race at the last minute, a Green Party candidate whose outsider credentials contrasted sharply with Newsom’s insider inevitability, coming within 5 percentage points of winning.

“I just bounced back and we did a lot of good shit after that,” Ammiano said, noting how district elections were conducive to his approach to politics. “It helped the way I wanted to govern, with the focus on the neighborhoods instead of the boys downtown.”

Perhaps Ammiano’s greatest legislative victory as a supervisor was his Health Care Security Ordinance, which required employers in San Francisco to provide health coverage for their employees and created the Healthy San Francisco program to help deliver affordable care to all San Franciscans.

The business community went ballistic when Ammiano proposed the measure in 2006, waging an aggressive lobbying and legal campaign to thwart the ordinance. But Ammiano just quietly took the heat, refused to compromise, and steadily lined up support from labor, public health officials, and other groups that were key to its passage.

“Maybe the early days of being a pinata inured me,” Ammiano said of his ability to withstand the onslaught from the business community for so long, recalling that in his 1999 school board race, “I really became a pinata. I got it in the morning from the Chronicle and in the afternoon from the Examiner.”

Ammiano kept Newsom apprised of his intentions and resolve, resisting entreaties to water down the legislation. “I kept talking to him and I told him I was going to do it,” Ammiano said. “Eventually, we got a 11 to zip vote and Newsom couldn’t do anything about it. That was a great journey.”

In the end, Newsom not only supported the measure, but he tried to claim Ammiano’s victory as his own, citing the vague promise he had made in his 2007 State of the City speech to try to provide universal health care in the city and his willingness to fund the program in his 2007-08 budget.

But Ammiano was happy with the policy victory and didn’t quibble publicly with Newsom about credit. “I picked my battles,” Ammiano said, contrasting his approach to Newsom with that of his more fiery progressive colleagues. “I tried to go after him on policy, not personality.”

Ammiano isn’t happy with the political turn that San Francisco has taken since he headed to Sacramento, with the pro-business, fiscally conservative faction of the city controlling the Mayor’s Office and exerting a big influence on the Board of Supervisors. But San Francisco’s elder statesman takes the long view. “Today, the board has a moderate trajectory that can be annoying, but I think it’s temporary,” Ammiano said. “These things are cyclical.”

He acknowledges that things can seem to a little bleak to progressives right now: “They’re feeling somewhat marginalized, but I don’t think it’s going to stay that way.”



Back on the Assembly floor, Ammiano was working the room, hamming it up with legislative colleagues and being the first of many legislators to rub elbows and get photos taken with visiting celebrities Carl Weathers, Daniel Stern, and Ron Perlman, who were there to support film-credit legislation

“Ron Perlman, wow, Sons of Anarchy,” Ammiano told us afterward, relating his conversation with Perlman. “I said, ‘They killed you, but you live on Netflix.’ I told him I was big fan. Even the progressives come here for the tax breaks.”

When Little Hoover Commission Chair Pedro Nava, who used to represent Santa Barbara in the Assembly, stopped to pose with Ammiano for the Guardian’s photographer, the famously liberal Ammiano quipped, “You’ll get him in trouble in Santa Barbara. Drill, baby, drill!”

Ammiano chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, where he has successfully pushed prison reform legislation and helped derail the worst tough-on-crime bills pushed by conservatives. “We have a lot of fun, and we get a chance to talk about all these bills that come before us,” Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, told the Guardian when asked about Ammiano. “You can see how these bad bills get less bad.”

Ammiano gave a short speech when his Modern Family Act came up for a vote, noting that it “simplifies the law around these procedures,” before the Assembly voted 57-2 to send it to the governor’s desk, where he has until Sept. 30 to act on it. “I think he’ll sign it,” Ammiano told the Guardian, “even though it’s about reproduction and naughty bits.”

“He’s a hoot,” Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said of Ammiano, whose desk is right behind his own. Jones-Sawyer said that he’d love to see Ammiano run for mayor of San Francisco, “but he’s waiting for a groundswell of support. Hopefully the progressives come together.”

Jones-Sawyer said Ammiano plays an important role as the conscience of a Legislature that too often caters to established interests.

“There’s liberal, progressive, socialist, communist, and then there’s Tom,” Jones said. “As far left as you can go, there’s Tom, and that’s what we’re going to miss.”

Yet despite that strong progressive reputation, Ammiano has also been an amazingly effective legislator (something that might surprise those supporting the campaign of David Chiu, which has repeatedly claimed that ideological progressives like Ammiano and Campos can’t “get things done” in Sacramento).

Last year, Ammiano got 13 bills through the Legislature — including three hugely controversial ones: the TRUST Act, which curbs local cooperation with federal immigration holds; the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights; and a bill protecting transgender student rights in schools, which was savaged by conservative religious groups — all of which were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“A lot of it is personal relationships, some is timing, and some is just sticking to it,” Ammiano said of effectiveness.

Some of his legislative accomplishments have required multiyear efforts, such as the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was vetoed in 2012 before being signed into law last year with only a few significant changes (see “Do we care?” 3/26/13).

“Tom Ammiano was so incredible to work with,” Katie Joaquin, campaign coordinator for the California Domestic Workers Coalition, for whom the bill had long been a top priority, told the Guardian.

The large grassroots coalition backing the bill insisted on being a part of the decision-making as it evolved, which is not always easy to do in the fast-paced Capitol. But Joaquin said Ammiano’s history of working with grassroots activists made him the perfect fit for the consensus-based coalition.

“That’s difficult to do in the legislative process, and working with Tom and his office made that possible,” Joaquin told us. “He wanted to make sure we had active participation in the field from a variety of people who were affected by this.”

When the bill was vetoed by Gov. Brown, who cited paternalistic concerns that better pay and working conditions could translate into fewer jobs for immigrant women who serve as domestic workers, Joaquin said Ammiano was as disappointed as the activists, but he didn’t give up.

“It was really hard. I genuinely felt Tom’s frustration. He was going through the same emotions we were, and it was great that he wanted to go through that with us again,” Joaquin told us. “Sometimes, your allies can get fatigued with the long struggles, but Tom maintained his resolve and kept us going.”

And after it was over, Ammiano even organized the victory party for the coalition and celebrated the key role that activists and their organizing played in making California only the second state in the nation (after New York) to extend basic wage, hour, and working condition protections to nannies, maids, and other domestic workers excluded under federal law.

“He has a great sense of style,” Joaquin said of Ammiano, “and that emanates in how he carries himself.”




Ammiano came to San Francisco in 1964, obtaining a master’s degree in special education from San Francisco State University and then going on to teach at Hawthorne Elementary (now known as Cesar Chavez Elementary). He quickly gained an appreciation for the complex array of issues facing the city, which would inform the evolution of his progressive worldview.

“In teaching itself, there were a lot of social justice issues,” Ammiano said. For example, most native Spanish-speakers at the time were simply dumped into special education classes because there wasn’t yet bilingual education in San Francisco schools. “So I turned to the community for help.”

The relationships that he developed in the immigrant community would later help as he worked on declaring San Francisco a sanctuary city as waves of Central American immigrants fled to California to escape US-sponsored proxy wars.

Growing up a Catholic working class kid in New Jersey, Ammiano was no hippie. But he was struck by the brewing war in Vietnam strongly enough that he volunteered to teach there through a Quaker program, International Volunteer Service, working in Saigon from 1966-68 and coming back with a strong aversion to US militarism.

“I came back from Vietnam a whole new person,” he told us. “I had a lot of political awakenings.”

He then worked with veterans injured during the war and began to gravitate toward leftist political groups in San Francisco, but he found that many still weren’t comfortable with his open homosexuality, an identity that he never sought to cover up or apologize for.

“I knew I was gay in utero,” Ammiano said. “I said you have to be comfortable with me being a gay, and it wasn’t easy for some. The left wasn’t that accepting.”

But that began to change in the early ’70s as labor and progressives started to find common cause with the LGBT community, mostly through organizations such as Bay Area Gay Liberation and the Gay Teachers Coalition, a group that Ammiano formed with Hank Wilson and Ron Lanza after Ammiano publicly came out as a gay teacher in 1975.

“He was the first public school teacher to acknowledge that he was a gay man, which was not as easy as it sounds in those days,” former Mayor Art Agnos told us, crediting Ammiano with helping make support for gay rights the default political position that it became in San Francisco.

San Francisco Unified School District still wasn’t supportive of gay teachers, Ammiano said, “So I ran for school board right after the assassinations [of Mayor George Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk in 1978] and got my ass kicked.”

Shortly thereafter, Ammiano decided to get into stand-up comedy, encouraged by friends and allies who loved his sense of humor. Meanwhile, Ammiano was pushing for SFUSD to name a school after Milk, as it immediately did for Moscone, a quest that dragged on for seven years and which was a central plank in his unsuccessful 1988 run for the school board.

But Ammiano was developing as a public figure, buoyed by his stand-up performances (which he said Chronicle reporters would sometimes attend to gather off-color quotes to use against him in elections) and increased support from the maturing progressive and queer communities.

So when he ran again for school board in 1990, he finished in first place as part of the so-called “lavender sweep,” with LGBT candidates elected to judgeships and lesbians Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg elected to the Board of Supervisors.

On the school board, Ammiano helped bring SFUSD into the modern age, including spearheading programs dealing with AIDS education, support for gay students, distribution of condoms in the schools, and limiting recruiting in schools by the homophobic Boy Scouts of America.

“I found out we were paying them to recruit in the schools, but I can’t recruit?” Ammiano said, referencing the oft-raised concern at the time that gay teachers would recruit impressionable young people into homosexuality.

As his first term on the school board ended, a growing community of supporters urged Ammiano to run for the Board of Supervisors, then still a citywide election, and he was elected despite dealing with a devastating personal loss at the time.

“My partner died five days before the election,” Ammiano said as we talked at the bar in Soluna, tearing up at the memory and raising a toast with his gin-and-tonic to his late partner, Tim Curbo, who succumbed to a long struggle with AIDS.

Ammiano poured himself into his work as a supervisor, allied on the left at various points in the mid-late ’90s with Sups. Sue Bierman, Terrence Hallinan, Leland Yee, Mabel Teng, Angelo Alioto, and Carole Migden against the wily and all-powerful then-Mayor Brown, who Ammiano said “manipulated everything.”

But Ammiano gradually began to chip away at that power, often by turning directly to the people and using ballot measures to accomplish reforms such as laws regulating political consultants and campaign contributions and the reinstatement of district supervisorial elections, which decentralized power in the city.

“People frequently say about politicians, when they want to say something favorable, that they never forgot where they came from,” Agnos told us. “With Tom, he never forgot where he came from, and more importantly, he never forgot who he was…He was an authentic and a proud gay man, as proud as Harvey Milk ever was.”

And from that strong foundation of knowing himself, where he came from, and what he believed, Ammiano maintained the courage to stand on his convictions.

“It’s not just political integrity, it’s a reflection of the man himself,” Agnos said, praising Ammiano’s ability to always remain true to himself and let his politics flow from that. “A lot of politicians don’t have the courage, personal or political, to do that.”




Ammiano’s legacy has been clearly established, even if it’s not always appreciated in a city enamored of the shiny and new, from recent arrivals who seem incurious about the city’s political history to the wave of neoliberal politicians who now hold sway in City Hall.

“Tom has carried on the legacy of Harvey Milk of being the movement progressive standard bearer. He has, more than anyone else, moved forward progressive politics in San Francisco in a way that goes beyond him as an individual,” Campos said, citing the return of district elections and his mentoring of young activists as examples. “He brought a number of people into politics that have been impactful in their own right.”

Campos is one of those individuals, endorsed by Ammiano to fill his District 9 seat on the Board of Supervisors from among a competitive field of established progressive candidates. Ammiano says he made the right choice.

“I have been supportive of him as a legislator and I think he’s doing the right things,” Ammiano said of Campos, adding an appreciation for the facts that he’s gay, an immigrant, and a solid progressive. “He’s a three-fer.”

Ammiano said that Campos has been a standout on the Board of Supervisors in recent years, diligently working to protect workers, tenants, and immigrants with successful efforts to increase tenant relocation fees after an eviction and an attempt to close the loophole that allows restaurants to pocket money they’re required to spend on employee health care, which was sabotaged by Chiu and Mayor Lee.

“I like his work ethic. He comes across as mild-mannered, but he’s a tiger,” Ammiano said of Campos. “If you like me, vote for David.”

But what about Ammiano’s own political future?

Ammiano said he’s been too busy lately to really think about what’s next for him (except romantically: Ammiano recently announced his wedding engagement to Carolis Deal, a longtime friend and lover). Ammiano is talking with universities and speakers bureaus about future gigs and he’s thinking about writing a book or doing a one-man show.

“Once I get that settled, I’ll look at the mayor’s race and [Sen. Mark] Leno’s seat,” Ammiano said, holding out hope that his political career will continue.

Ammiano said the city is desperately in need of some strong political leadership right now, something that he isn’t seeing from Mayor Lee, who has mostly been carrying out the agenda of the business leaders, developers, and power brokers who engineered his mayoral appointment in 2011.

“Basically, he’s an administrator and I don’t think he’ll ever be anything but that,” Ammiano said. “We are so fucking ready for a progressive mayor.”

If Ammiano were to become mayor — which seems like a longshot at this point — he says that he would use that position to decentralize power in San Francisco, letting the people and their representatives on the Board of Supervisors have a greater say in the direction of the city and making governance decisions more transparent.

“I don’t believe in a strong mayor [form of government],” Ammiano said. “If I was mayor, all the commission appointments would be shared.”

But before he would decide to run for mayor, Ammiano says that he would need to see a strong groundswell of public support for the values and ideals that he’s represented over nearly a half-century of public life in San Francisco.

“I don’t want to run to be a challenger,” Ammiano said. “I’d want to run to be mayor.”


































































































Time for change


Christy Price doesn’t want to work forever. At 60, the security guard has worked in formula retail stores for 25 years. She says she has trouble making a living due to cuts in her work schedule, a setback that could prevent her from retiring for the foreseeable future.

Price, who has been with her current company for a decade, works at various retailers her company contracts with. Her shift from full- to part-time work is typical for employees of formula retailers in the city, many of whom are half Price’s age and attempting to support families or make their way through college.

“I’m more or less in the same predicament as [the retail workers], in terms of hours,” Price said. “It’s scary, and it’s awful sad. You’ve got people who want to work and contribute, but they aren’t given the opportunity.”

Sup. Eric Mar’s recently proposed Retail Workers Bill of Rights aims to change that. Unveiled at a July 29 press conference at San Francisco City Hall, the legislation seeks to boost prospects for retail workers “held hostage by on-call scheduling, diminished hours and discriminatory treatment by employers,” according to a statement issued by Mar’s office. There are also plans to expand the legislation to include employees of formula retail contractors, like Price.

“We’re here today because raising the minimum wage isn’t enough,” Jobs with Justice Retail Campaign Organizer Michelle Lim said at the press conference. That same day, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place a measure on the November ballot to raise the San Francisco minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.

The current trend is for retail employers to hire part-time workers, spreading the hours thin and requiring employees to be on call for many more hours of work than they actually receive. That creates unpredictable schedules, making it difficult for workers to pay the bills.

Having stable work hours makes it possible for formula retail employees to plan for other parts of their lives, like earning college degrees, spending time with family or working other jobs — which is often a necessity for lower wage workers. Plus, as Price notes, companies with too many part-time employees aren’t getting the most out of their workers.

“If you keep undercutting them and cutting their hours, you’re not going to get the customer service that you’re looking for,” Price said. “You’re going to get what you pay for. You do need that skill; some people can do it, some people can’t.”

At the press conference, Mar was joined by fellow lead sponsor Board President David Chiu and co-sponsor Sup. John Avalos, along with speakers from local labor advocacy groups and a host of current and former formula retail workers.

As Lim explained, the proposed Bill of Rights package has four provisions. The first calls for “promoting full-time work and access to hours.” It would require formula retail employers to offer additional hours of work to current part-time employees, before hiring additional part-timers.

That would help prevent situations like those mentioned by retail employees speaking at the press conference. One Gap employee noted that part-time workers are often expected to commit to up to 30 hours of availability a week, yet would only be offered as little as 10 hours, despite being required to remain on call.

Another formula retail employee, Brian Quick, had a particularly rough experience while working for Old Navy at the clothing retailer’s flagship store. Having worked in retail for four years, he said his schedule for the upcoming week would come out on Thursday night, and the hours constantly fluctuated.

“It’s hard to plan anything such as doctor appointments when you aren’t even sure when you work,” Quick said. “Some weeks I would work 35 hours, and the next I’d get 15 hours. How am I supposed to pay bills?”

Last-minute notices became routine for Quick, who sometimes received calls informing him he didn’t have a shift anymore the night before he was scheduled to work.

“One day I came into work and they cut my hours right then and there,” Quick said. “Seems like everything is based on sales and not the well-being of the people who make the sales happen.”

Quick had other troubling experiences while working for Old Navy, including when he was denied Christmas vacation despite applying for it three months in advance. He eventually got the time off, but only through persistence and “the last-minute intervention of a sympathetic manager.”

“We know that consistent and reliable scheduling is important to our employees,” said Laura Wilkinson, a spokesperson for Gap Inc. “We are exploring ways to increase scheduling stability and flexibility across our fleet of stores. For example, last month we announced a pilot project with Professor Joan Williams of [University of California] Hastings College of Law to examine workplace scheduling and productivity.”

Gap Inc., the corporation that owns Old Navy, could be at the forefront of improving conditions, but the legislation’s supporters aren’t counting on retailers to make the necessary changes.

Instances like Quick’s are common in formula retail all over the country. Many retail employees, including some of Quick’s co-workers, must support families despite the unpredictable hours and low wages.

The second provision of the Retail Workers Bill of Rights attempts to fix that. It calls for “discouraging abusive on call practices” and aims to “encourage fair, predictable schedules.” Specifically, that would entail employers posting core schedules in advance with reasonable notice and providing premium pay “when an employer requires an employee to be ‘on-call’ for a specific shift, or cancels a shift with less than 24 hours notice.”

The third provision looks to improve conditions for part-time workers, calling for “equal treatment.” That means prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees “with respect to their rate of pay,” among other things like promotion opportunities and paid or unpaid time off.

It also addresses a chief concern for many part-time workers: ensuring that employees unable to maintain “open availability,” or being available at any time for a shift, are not denied employment. That’s especially significant for students and parents who have to balance their lives outside the retail industry with its demanding work hours.

“These policies, I feel, will have a huge impact on the lives of tens of thousands of our services workers, many of them low-wage workers who live with uncertainty and fear about their schedules and their other responsibilities in life,” Mar said as he introduced the legislation.

“Many of my family members and close friends are in that category, [along with] single moms, students in college and others that really deserve fair scheduling and a fair chance at economic justice.”

The final provision seeks to protect workers’ job security when their companies are bought or sold, requiring a 90-day trial period for existing employees if a formula retail business is acquired. This is meant to prevent companies from simply forcing out previous employees, allowing the workers a grace period to search for new work.

The legislation would impact an estimated 100,000 workers at approximately 1,250 stores across San Francisco. Those that qualify as formula retail businesses under city law include fast food businesses, restaurants, hotels and banks, and they must meet requirements in Section 703.3 of the San Francisco Planning Code.

In short, the law will apply to businesses considered to be chain stores, such as Target, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wells Fargo and other major companies doing business throughout the city.

But the Retail Workers Bill of Rights’ supporters believe its impact will be felt beyond San Francisco, citing the city’s history of starting nationwide movements.

“San Francisco has always led the way when it comes to policies that protect working people,” Lim said. “The Retail Workers Bill of Rights is a commonsense proposal to bring stability to some of our city’s most marginalized workers.”

The supervisors sponsoring the ordinance have received plenty of help from Lim and Jobs with Justice San Francisco, a worker’s rights organization that has played an integral role in the city’s fight to improve labor conditions.

In 2013, Jobs with Justice mobilized labor support for the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, legislation not unlike Mar’s proposed legislation. In September 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Domestic Workers Bill into law, making California the nation’s first state to mandate overtime pay for domestic employees, specifically designating time-and-a-half pay for those working more than 45 hours a week or nine hours a day.

Even more support has come from the San Francisco Labor Council, Service Employees International Union Local 87 and Young Workers United, among many others, all of which have endorsed the legislation.

The proposal will come back into play in September, when the board returns from its summer recess. The process will start with public hearings, at which Mar said he looks forward to “really lively public conversation.”

That will give workers like Julissa Hernandez, a Safeway employee for 13 years and a veteran of the retail system, a chance to have their voices heard.

Speaking at the City Hall press conference, Hernandez said, “We should let retail workers know that they are not alone in this fight.”


Events: June 4 – 10, 2014


Listings are compiled by Guardian staff. Submit items for the listings at For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Selector.


Anne Germanacos Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The author discusses her latest book, Tribute.

“Litquake’s June Epicenter” Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter, SF; 7pm, $5-15 suggested donation. Geoff Dyer launches his new nonfiction book, Another Great Day at Sea, and discusses it with Chris Colin.

“Radar Superstar” San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin, SF; 6-8pm, free. Michelle Tea hosts this celebration of the Radar Reading Series’ 11th birthday, with Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Anna Margarita Albelo, Achy Obejas, and Martin Sorrondeguy.


“After Hours: Thursday Night at the Jewseum” Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission, SF; 6-8pm, free with museum admission, $5 after 5pm. Happy-hour fun with live music, specialty cocktails, a vintage-couture installation using live models, a challah braiding demo, and more.

Robert Dawson Hattery, 414 Brannan, SF; 7pm, $15. The photographer discusses The Public Library: A Photographic Essay.

Walter Mosely Book Passage, 1 Ferry Bldg, SF; 6pm, free. The acclaimed novelist reads from his racy new work, Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore.

“Shipwreck: Tournament of Champions” Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7pm, $10 (includes drinks). Six writers “destroy one great book, one great character at a time;” this episode unites a cast of Shipwreck all-stars to take down Gone With the Wind.


“The Sketchbook Project” Classic Cars West, 411 26th St, Oakl; (check website for additional dates and locations). 6-10pm. Also Sat/7, 1-5pm. Free. The Sketchbook Project Mobile Library visits First Friday Art Murmur and Saturday Stroll with its collection of thousands of handmade sketchbooks.


Philippine Independence Day Celebration: Lumago Lampas (Grow Beyond) Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding, Alameda; 7pm, $15-25. Celebrate with performances by Parangal Dance Company, musician Ron Quesada, artist Kristian Kabuay, and more. Presented by the American Center of Philippine Arts.

“Reflections of Me and My World 2014” Oasis Gallery at American Steel Studios, 1960 Mandela, Oakl; 3-6pm, free. ArtEsteem’s 16th annual exhibit highlights work created by local youth in collaboration with West Oakland artists.

Union Street Festival Union between Gough and Steiner, SF; 10am-6pm, free (tasting tickets, $30-35). Through Sun/8. This 38-year-old festival features tasting pavilions highlighting Bay Area craft beers and wines. Each block of the fest will also have a themed “world,” centered around fashion, culinary arts, tech, locals, crafts, and fitness.

Yerba Buena Art Walk Between Market and Folsom and Second and Fifth Sts, SF; 12:30-6pm, free. Yerba Buena Alliance presents this neighborhood showcase, highlighting galleries, exhibitions, and institutions throughout the downtown cultural center.


Haight Ashbury Street Fair Haight between Stanyan and Masonic, SF. 11am-8:30pm, free. Live music on two stages, plus over 200 vendor booths, highlight this groovy tradition.

Queer Comics Expo Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission, SF; 11am-5pm, $6-8. Learn about the LGBTQ world of comic books at this first-time event, featuring artists, authors, and costumed fans. Part of the National Queer Arts Festival.

Sunday Streets San Francisco Great Highway, SF; 11am-4pm, free. Head to the edge of San Francisco and Golden Gate Park to enjoy car-free streets.


Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The editor discusses new collection Singapore Noir


Sheila Bapat Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The author discusses Part of the Family? Nannies, Housekeepers, Caregivers and the Battle for Domestic Workers’ Rights.

Eric Baus City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus, SF; 7pm, free. The author celebrates The Tranquilized Tongue, the latest in the City Lights Spotlight Poetry series. *

Alerts: November 20 – 26, 2013



Photographic journey through modern-day slavery The Commonwealth Club, 595 Market, SF. 5:30-7pm, $20. Photographer Lisa Kristine will share photographs from her travels to over a hundred countries on six different continents. The photographs document the daily lives of some of the millions of people who live in slavery around the world today. Kristine’s presentation will be preceded by a reception where attendees can connect with one another. The reception will be followed by a book signing.


Forum on America’s workers First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, 1187 Franklin, SF. 7-9pm, free. Californian domestic workers recently won a landmark Domestic Bill of Rights after a long and trying struggle. This result, coupled with the nationwide fast-food strike in August, has launched the fight for livable wages into the realm of public debate. Join activists Katie Joaquin and Andrew Dadko as they discuss what’s next for some of our nation’s most exploited, lowest-paid workers. For more information, please email Dolores Priem at




History of Market Street walking tour Plaza across from Ferry Building near southern Millennium Tower, SF. 1-3pm, $5-10. RSVP required. Market Street has long been San Francisco’s most prominent boulevard. It’s where residents congregate in public, and has been the site of countless protests, celebrations, riots, festivals, and more. Uncover the hidden histories during this two-hour walk through the heart of the city. Tour ends at UN Plaza, Seventh and Market streets.


Film Screening: The House I Live In Russian Center of San Francisco, 2450 Sutter, SF. 7-9:30pm, free. City Hope is screening the Sundance award-winning documentary on the War on Drugs. The film examines the forty-year war that our country has waged against narcotics and the results it has produced: 45 million arrests, making the U.S. the world’s largest jailer, and damaging poor, minority communities at home and abroad. Meanwhile, drugs have only become cheaper, stronger, and easier to obtain. By demonstrating how this war has been fueled by political and economic corruption and showcasing the individual lives that it affects, from the street dealer to the narcotics officer to the prison inmate, the film makes the case for the total failure of the War on Drugs. Refreshments will accompany the screening.

Subversive film screening on drones outside the San Francisco Jazz Center, 201 Franklin, SF. 6pm, free. CODEPINK, World Can’t Wait and others plan to host a film screening on drone strikes, projecting one or two films about drones outside the SF Jazz Center. It’s part of a protest against President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to visit the city and attend a luncheon at the Jazz Center on Nov. 25. Protesters plan to march to the Jazz Center at 11:30am on Mon/25 to protest drone strikes.

Meister: The Legislature shows Congress how


Guardian columnist Dick Meister has covered labor and political affairs for more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website,, which contains several hundred of his columns.

Forget for a moment what’s happened ­­ or not happened  ­- in Congress. Concentrate instead on what’s meanwhile gone on in the State Legislature, much of it for the benefit of California’s working people.

 The State AFL-CIO cites, for instance, the Legislature’s passage this year of more than a dozen decidedly worker-friendly bills sponsored by the labor
federation and strongly backed by the federation’s Democratic Party allies in Sacramento.

The most important of the bills will raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour by January of 2016. Other key laws:

*Require overtime pay for domestic workers, who are currently excluded from
most labor laws.

*Will make it easier for immigrant workers to get drivers’ licenses and
protect them from retaliation when they speak out about poor pay and working

*Should make it easier for workers with criminal records who are denied jobs
despite their rehabilitation.

*Give corporate tax breaks to employers who create jobs.

*Increase the legal protections for the state’s notably exploited farm
workers and car wash employees.

*Strengthen current laws that require builders holding state contracts to
pay their crews the prevailing wage for construction work in their areas.

*Encourage Employers and workers “to identify and minimize the risk of
workplace violence.”

*Expand the law granting paid family sick leaves to workers caring for ill
parents and children to also include work time lost while caring for sick
parents-in-law, siblings, grandparents  and grandchildren.

*Ease the unjust impact of current immigration law enforcement on workers
and families by limiting the state’s cooperation with the federal “Secure
Communities” program.

Art Pulaski, the State AFL-CIO’s chief officer, rightly claims that with
passage of the laws, California undoubtedly has become “the national leader
in sporting workers and their families.”

What’s more, says Pulaski, passage of the laws marked a crucial start of
“the essential work of rebuilding the state’s middle class.”

If only we could expect even a fraction of such important work from our
squabbling federal legislators.

Copyright 2013 Dick Meister

Guardian columnist Dick Meister has covered labor and political affairs for
more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator.
Contact him through his website,, which contains several
hundred of his columns.

Domestic workers may get labor rights


The California Legislature gave final approval to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights on Sept. 12, legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) to finally extend some labor rights to this largely female and immigrant workforce. Advocates are hopeful that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it this time.

As we reported in a Guardian cover story, “Do we care?” (March 28), domestic and farm workers are the only two categories of employees exempted from federal labor law, and the caregiving professions are consistently undervalued in our economic and political systems. Last year, Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, expressing the concern that it might hurt the economy and cost jobs.

But advocates for the measure came back even stronger this year than last, and they recently accepted a set of amendments in the Senate that weaken the bill but may make it more palatable to Gov. Brown, including eliminating the requirement for rest and meal breaks and giving the measure a three-year sunset and commission to review its impacts.

“We’ve had discussions with the administration and we think we’re on the right track to get it signed,” Ammiano’s Press Secretary Carlos Alcala told the Guardian.

He emphasized that the bill still retains the requirement that domestic workers, who routinely work more than 40 hours per week, are entitled to overtime pay, something that Ammiano also emphasized in a prepared statement.

“This is a historic moment,” Ammiano said. “This now goes to the governor for his signature. That will give these workers, mostly women, the right to be paid fairly for overtime worked.”

Katie Joaquin, campaign coordinator the California Domestic Workers Coalition, said she’s excited to see the bill pass and hopeful that Brown will sign it this time.

“If he signs this bill, California would be the first state to give daily overtime rights to all domestic workers,” she said.

Gov. Brown has until Oct. 13 to sign it. 

Legislature approves Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, but will Brown sign it this time?


The California Legislature today gave final approval to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) to finally extend some labor rights to this largely female and immigrant workforce. Advocates are hopeful that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it this time.

As we reported in a Guardian cover story in March, “Do we care?,” domestic and farm workers are the only two categories of employees exempted from federal labor law, and the caregiving professions are consistently undervalued in our economic and political systems. Last year, Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, expressing the concern that it might hurt the economy and cost jobs.

But advocates for the measure came back even stronger this year than last, and they recently accepted a set of amendments in the Senate that weaken the bill but may make it more palatable to Gov. Brown, including eliminating the requirement for rest and meal breaks and giving the measure a three-year sunset and commission to review its impacts.

“We’ve had discussions with the administration and we think we’re on the right track to get it signed,” Ammiano’s Press Secretary Carlos Alcala told the Guardian.

He emphasized that the bill still retains the requirement that domestic workers, who routinely work more than 40 hours per week, are entitled to overtime pay, something that Ammiano also emphasized in a prepared statement.

“This is a historic moment,” Ammiano said. “This now goes to the governor for his signature. That will give these workers, mostly women, the right to be paid fairly for overtime worked.”

Katie Joaquin, campaign coordinator the California Domestic Workers Coalition, said she’s excited to see the bill pass and hopeful that Brown will sign it this time.

“If he signs this bill, California would be the first state to give daily overtime rights to all domestic workers,” she said, referring to its requirement that domestic workers get overtime pay after working nine hours in a day, the same standard as now applies to live-in caregivers. 

While she said it was hard to accept some of the amendments, such as removing the requirement that domestic workers get uninterrupted time for a full night’s sleep, she said they were acceptable conditions for this initial reform measure. And she said the sunset provision could actual work in their favor: “We plan to take that as an opportunity to fight for even more.”

The bill, AB241, was approved by the Assembly today on a 48-25 vote to concur with the amendment made in the Senate. Gov. Brown has until Oct. 13 to sign it. 

Activists urge Gov. Brown not to veto the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights again


Supporters of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights are gathering outside the State Capitol Building this afternoon (Tues/13), culminating caravans that began with rallies in a half-dozen cities (including San Francisco this morning), hoping to extend basic labor protections to the people who care for our children and grandparents and clean our homes.

Although activists want to reach members of the California Senate, where Assembly Bill 241 awaits approval after clearing the Assembly (it now awaits action by the Senate Appropriations Committee), their main target is Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed a similar bill last year.

As we wrote in an April cover story on the issue, “Do We Care?,” Brown cited concerns that extending overtime, minimum wage, and other basic labor standards to domestic workers — who, along with farm workers, are the only workers exempt from federal labor laws — could cause employers to lay off or reduce the hours of domestic workers.

Activists said they were insulted by that paternalistic approach. Nonetheless, the bill was modified to address some of those concerns, said Carlos Alcala, spokesperson for Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who sponsored the bill last year and again this year. For example, he said it eliminated the need for state agencies to write new regulations to enforcement the measure.

“It now puts the rules into the code. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. If we write the rules, then the rules say what we want,” Alcala told us. Still, he said they’ve gotten no indications from the Governor’s Office that Brown would sign this version: “It’s really hard to read where he is, but the good thing is we’ve already been through this.”

Activists with the California Domestic Workers Coalition — which brings together domestic workers, their employers, labor unions, and progressive groups — say they’ve been lobbying the Governor’s Office but they don’t know where he stands.    

“Gov. Brown has not given any indication he’s going to sign the bill,” said Katie Joaquin, who is coordinating the campaign. “This caravan has involved numerous leaders from various communities urging Gov. Brown to work with us.”

Some wins, some losses in Sacto


The state Assembly and Senate passed the usual flurry of bills on May 31, the last day for initial-house approval, with some unusual drama that temporarily sidelined a medical-marijuana bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

By the time it was all over, several other Ammiano bills passed, a measure by Assemblymember Phil Ting to ease the way for a Warriors arena on the waterfront won approval, and state Sen. Mark Leno got most of his major legislation through.

The pot bill, AB 473, would have established a state regulatory framework for medical cannabis, something that most advocates and providers support. Still, because the subject is marijuana, it was no easy sell and at first, a lot of members, both Republicans and Democrats, expressed concern that the measure might restrict the ability of local government to ban or limit dispensaries.

Ammiano, in presenting the bill, made it clear that it had no impact on local control, and that was enough to get 38 votes. Typically, when a bill is that close to passage, the chair asks the sponsor if he or she wants to “hold the call” that is, freeze the vote for a few minutes so supporters can make sure all of their allies are actually on the floor and voting and to try, if necessary, to round up a couple of wobblers.

In this case, though, Speaker Pro Tem Nora Campos, of San Jose, simply gaveled the vote to a close while Ammiano was scrambling to get her to hold it. “That’s very unusual, not good behavior,” one Sacramento insider told me.

Ammiano was more respectful toward Campos, simply calling it a “procedural mistake.” He told us he would be looking for other ways to move the bill. “The door is never fully closed up here,” he said.

However that turns out, the veteran Assemblymember, now in his final term, won a resounding victory with the passage of his Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, AB 241. The bill would give domestic workers some of the same labor rights as other employees, including the right to overtime pay and breaks. “These workers, who are mostly women, keep our households running smoothly, care for our children, and enable people with disabilities to live at home and remain engaged in our communities,” Ammiano said. “Why shouldn’t they have overtime protections like the average barista or gas station attendant?”

An Ammiano bill restricting the ability of prosecutors to use condom possession as evidence in prostitution cases also cleared, as did a bill tightening safety rules on firearms.

Ting’s bill, AB 1273, would allow the state Legislature, not the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, to make a key finding on whether the new area is appropriate for the shoreline. Mayor Ed Lee and the Warriors strongly backed the measure, clearly believing it would make the path to development easier. Ammiano voted against it showing that the San Francisco delegation is by no means unanimous on this issue.

Leno had a string of significant victories. A bill called the Disclose Act, which would mandate that all campaign ads reveal, in large, readable type, who is actually paying for them, cleared with the precise two-thirds majority needed and it was a straight party-line vote. Every single Republican was in opposition. “They know that if their ads say “paid for by Chevron and PG&E, the won’t work as well,” Leno told us.

He also won approval for a bill that would ease the way for people wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit to receive the modest $100 a day payment the state theoretically owes them. There are 132 people cleared of crimes and released from prison, but the process of applying for the payment is currently so onerous that only 11 have actually gotten a penny. “We victimized these people, and we shouldn’t make them prove their innocence twice,” Leno said.

Bills to better monitor price manipulation by oil companies and to expand the trauma recovery program pioneered by San Francisco General Hospital also cleared the Senate floor.

But Leno had a disappointing loss, too: A bill that would have helped tenants collect on security deposits that landlords wrongfully withheld died with only 12 vote a sign of how powerful the real-estate industry remains in Sacramento.


Pot, domestic worker bills win approval


Two bills that we’ve been following, one to regulate medical marijuana and the other to give domestic workers some basic rights, won approval from a key state Assembly committee and are headed for the Assembly floor.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s AB 473, which would create a division under the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to write statewide regs for dispensaries, cleared the Appropriations Committee (where many good bills go to die) May 24. It’s a big step: For years, most of official Sacramento was afraid even to talk about the devil weed, much less take action on something that might look like a sign of approval. Now that the biggest problem with medical marijuana is zoning (and federal crackdowns) — and frankly, California is only a couple of years away from following Colorado and legalizing pot anyway — it makes sense to have a framework in place to ensure quality control, register dispensaries … and maybe convince the feds to back down.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, AB 241, would require people to treat household workers with the same respect and the same types of benefits as most other workers. It would mandate work breaks, sleep breaks, overtime … pretty basic stuff. But the guv, for reasons known only to him, vetoed it last time around. Perhaps he’ll come to his senses.

The bills will probably make it to the Assembly floor next week.


May Day rally for immigration reform in SF

Hundreds gathered for a rally outside San Francisco City Hall on May 1, capping off a march that drew activists into the streets to commemorate International Workers Day. The events were organized by a broad coalition of immigrant rights advocates to call for improvements to the recently unveiled proposal for federal immigration reform, which will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. [More photos after the jump]

Olga Miranda of SEIU Local 87, the San Francisco Janitors Union, addressed the crowd. “I want to be able to recognize sheet metal workers, carpenters, laborers, hospital workers, housekeepers, domestic workers,” she said. “We are a proud economy. … All we want is for workers to be able to come out of the dark. We want to make sure that we are not exploited for the color of our skin, that we are not pushed into the darkness. We are Chinese, we are Arabic, we are Filipino, we are gay, we are transgender. We are workers! And comprehensive immigration reform needs to be inclusive.”

Activists from Causa Justa / Just Cause led the crowd in a unity chant in five different languages.


Putri Siti, an undocumented student from Indonesia, shared the story of when she and her family thought they might face deportation. “I am more than just an illegal. I am more than just undocumented. I’m a student. I’m a dancer. It doesn’t matter what paper I have. And now, I am proud to say, that I am undocumented, unafraid, unashamed,”  she said.


Scenes from the struggle for economic justice


Hacking Oakland’s budget

Sporting trucker hats, nose rings, and in activist Shawn McDougal’s case, a white tee with “Revolutionary” printed across the front in simple black lettering, the young, energetic activists assembled at Sudo Room, an Oakland hacker space, come across as unlikely ballot-initiative proponents. Nevertheless, in a few short weeks, the all-volunteer Community Democracy Project crew intends to hit the pavement and begin collecting signatures for a measure to introduce “participatory budgeting” to Oakland city government.

Their objective is to set up a kind of direct democracy system for hashing out the city’s discretionary spending. The proposal would create a charter amendment and a new Oakland city department to reconfigure the politically contentious budget allocation process, by “shifting accountability in a way that more people are able to engage,” says organizer Sonya Rifkin.

The proposal envisions convening democratic “neighborhood assemblies,” each of which would represent roughly 4,000 Oaklanders. Any resident age 16 or older would be free to attend meetings and vote on NA proposals. The NA proposals would then be forwarded onto citywide committees and synthesized as proposals for the ballot, whereupon the electorate would have the final say.

For the Community Democracy Project organizers, who mostly became acquainted through Occupy Oakland, the radical concept is just as much about achieving equitable budget allocation as it is about stoking the embers of community building. To place it on Oakland’s city ballot, the ambitious campaigners hope to collect 40,000 signatures in the next six months.

It’s a tall order, yet the activists appear undaunted. It’s a movement, McDougal says, comprised of “regular people, realizing that they don’t have to be spectators. They can be participants.” (Rebecca Bowe)

Solidarity with Bangladeshi sweatshop workers

News of a Bangladesh factory collapse last week that killed hundreds of low-wage workers reached San Francisco just as labor organizers were preparing to rally for stronger safety measures in overseas sweatshops.

Last November, a fire broke out in the Tarzeen Fashions factory in Bangladesh, killing 112 employees who produced garments for Walmart and other retailers. Sumi Abedin, a 24-year-old garment worker who earned about $62 a month working 11-hour days, six days a week, survived the blaze.

Through a translator, Abedin told reporters, “We were trying to exit through the staircase, and then we saw a lot of burned bodies, injured bodies. And I jumped through a third floor window because I thought, instead of being burned alive, even if I die, my mother will get my body.”

Abedin was standing outside San Francisco’s Gap headquarters, flanked by Bay Area activists from Jobs with Justice, Unite HERE, Our Walmart, and others. They were there to call on the popular retailer to sign a fire-safety agreement to implement renovations, at an estimated cost of about 10 cents per garment. In a statement, Gap noted that it had implemented its own four-point plan “to improve fire safety at the selected factories that produce our products.”

Gap had no direct connection with the Tarzeen Fashions blaze that Abedin narrowly escaped. Yet Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity organizer Kalpona Akter explained that the campaign was targeting Gap because “they’re saying they have corporate social responsibility,” yet have refused to sign onto the worker-sanctioned, legally binding fire safety agreement endorsed by BCWS, which brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and German retailer Tchibo have committed to. “This is one appropriate thing Gap can do in this moment,” Akter said, “if they really wanted to prevent this death toll in other parts of the world.” (Bowe)

Making job-training programs actually work

The phrase “welfare” may conjure up the image of a couch potato catching up on daytime soaps while the checks roll in, but Karl Kramer of the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition says it’s simply not the case — some people are not only working to earn those meager checks, they’re faced with few options once their participation in such programs comes to an end.

In San Francisco, many recipients of public assistance are part of the local Community Jobs Program, designed to provide unemployed people with on-the-job experience to help them land on their feet after six months. In practice, however, “it’s not happening,” Kramer says. “They’re dead-end programs. People aren’t moving onto jobs, and at the end of the Community Jobs program, they’re cut off completely.”

Part of the problem is that few pathways exist to connect the workers with actual paid gigs once they’ve finished. So the Living Wage Coalition is pushing for legislation that would improve and expand upon the Community Jobs Program, by raising the wage rate from $11.03 to $12.43 per hour, giving participants the option of working 40 hours a week, extending the program from six months to one year to square with eligibility requirements for many job listings, and creating an advisory committee to facilitate entry-level job creation in city departments.

“There has not been political will to really make these programs successful,” Kramer notes. And in the meantime, “people don’t connect it with why there’s such a growth of homeless families” in San Francisco. (Bowe)

Basic rights for domestic workers

The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would apply basic federal labor protections (such as a minimum wage, the right to breaks, and basic workplace safety standards) to domestic workers. If it becomes law, credit will go in part to its author, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, but also to the California Domestic Workers Coalition, which has been pushing the issue for years.

Supporters of the bill say it’s unconscionable that domestic workers — the people who care for our children and grandparents and tend our homes — are one of just two occupations exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the other being farm workers (another profession with a well-documented history of labor abuses, and also one comprised largely of unpaid immigrants). “We need to have protections for the people who do really important work,” Katie Joaquin, campaign coordinator for the coalition, told the Guardian.

As we reported recently (“Do We Care?,” 3/26/13), Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the measure last year after it was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature, expressing the paternalistic concern that it may reduce wages or hours of domestic workers. But its supporters have come back stronger than ever this year. Now know as Assembly Bill 241, the measure cleared the Assembly Labor Committee on a 5-2 vote on April 24 and it now awaits action by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. They say this bill, which New York approved in 2010, is a key step toward valuing caregiving and other undervalued work traditionally performed by women. (Steven T. Jones)

Ammiano’s on a roll


Willie Brown, the former mayor and current unregistered lobbyist, has been trying to undermine Assemblymember Tom Ammiano for years. But take a look at two Ammiano bills this spring and you get a sense of how effective San Francisco’s veteran representative can be.

On April 23, the state Assembly Judiciary Committee passed Ammiano’s Homeless Bill of Rights, 7-3. That wasn’t easy; he had to amend the bill and work the committee hard. The League of California Cities, which has a lot of clout in Sacto, doesn’t like the bill; neither does the California Chamber of Commerce. This is a big deal; the bill would ban most “sit-lie” laws and guarantee everyone the right to use public space.

Then the Pubilc Safety Committee approved his marijuana regulation bill, 5-2 (despite Brown and Co. trying to screw it up). And his Domestic Workers Bill of Rights , which the governor vetoed last year, is headed for likely approval at the Labor and Employment Committee.

There’s still a long road ahead for all of these bills — more committees, Assembly floor, Senate, and then the guv (and who the hell knows where Jerry will be on anything these days). But it’s possible that, in his final term, Ammiano could have several landmark bills approved.

(Yeah, it’s his final term. Six years is all you get in the Assembly. Crazy what terms limits has wrought. The minute you get to the point where you really know how to do your job, and you can truly deliver for your constitutents, they shove you out the door.)


Do we care?


Teresa Molina faced abusive, belittling treatment on the job.

The 52-year-old immigrant from Sinaloa, Mexico, says she was paid $500 a month to provide 24-hour, live-in care to a girl in a wheelchair and her family. She wasn’t allowed regular breaks. She couldn’t eat what she wanted. Even her sleep was disrupted.

“I spoke up a couple times, but when I did, my employer told me I was dumb and good for nothing,” Molina, speaking Spanish through a translator, told us. “She would ask my immigration status, and I said that was not important, but she used that as a threat.”

Molina is a domestic worker — one of the only two professions (the other being farm work) exempt from federal labor standards.

Her experience, a common one among immigrant women in California, prompted Molina to get involved in last year’s California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights campaign, part of national effort that resulted in the first-ever protections being signed into law in New York in 2010.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the California version of the bill late on the night of Sept. 30, 2012, the deadline for signing legislation, citing the paternalistic concern that better pay and working conditions might translate into fewer jobs or fewer hours for domestic workers.

“I was offended by how he did it, in the middle of the night on the last day, and he basically trivialized it,” Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-SF), who sponsored the measure, told us. “Here in California, it’s a major workforce, but there’s no rules and there’s a documented history of abuses.”

But if anything, Brown’s veto has energized local activists, who say the battle for domestic worker rights is part of a much larger issue that women, children, immigrants, and their supporters are struggling against as they try to get society to value one of the most basic of social and economic functions: caring and caregiving.

Those in the caregiving professions are used to such defeats, but this one seems to be galvanizing and uniting several parallel movements — most of which have a strong presence here in the Bay Area — that want to apply human values and needs to an economic system that has never counted them.

It is, economists and policy experts say, a profoundly different way to measure economic output — and if the domestic workers and their allies succeed, it could have long-term implications for national, state, and local policy.



There are endless examples of how society undervalues caring and caregiving and other labor that has long been deemed “women’s work.” They range from nurses fighting for fair contracts to in-home support service workers fighting for their jobs. Many are jobs that have traditionally been done in the home — and in some cases, not counted at all as part of the Gross Domestic Product.

Social work, teaching, administrative support, caring for children or seniors, community organizing, and other jobs held predominantly by women and people of color are consistently among the lowest paid professions.

But the demand for those jobs is increasing — and the price of under-investing in education, caregiving, and child development is decreased productivity and increased crime and other costs for decades to come — so activists say they are critical to the nation’s future.

“It’s a different perspective. Caregiving isn’t transactional the way we think about other jobs,” said Alicia Garza, executive director of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), which has joined with other organizations nationwide for a Caring Across Generations campaign. “We’re a nation that has a growing aging population with no plan for how we’re going to take care of these people.”

In California today, caregivers find themselves under attack. Despite playing an important role in electing Brown as governor and in keeping Kaiser Hospital in Oakland and CPMC’s St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco open to the low-income residents they serve, the California Nurses Association is still stuck in a years-long contract impasse with those huge hospital corporations.

“We don’t think of ourselves first, we think of others first,” says Zenei Cortez, a CNA co-president who has been a registered nurse for 33 years, noting that patient care and advocacy standards have been key sticking points in their negotiations.

During each year with a budget shortfall, in-home support services for the sick, elderly, and disabled have been placed on the budgetary chopping block in California and many of its counties — including San Francisco, which has about 21,000 such workers — saved only by political organizing efforts and a longstanding lawsuit against the state (which was just settled on March 20 and will result in an 8 percent across-the-board cut in services).

“This program has been under assault for a full decade,” says Paul Kumar, a public policy and political consultant for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, calling that attack short-sighted, in both fiscal and human terms. “People get better care in a home setting.”



If people generally act in their financial self interest, as economic theory holds, Oakland resident Lil Milagro Martinez would oppose the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and its requirement that she pay her nanny at least minimum wage and allow for breaks and sick days.

After all, Milagro and her family are barely scraping by, with her husband working four jobs as she balances care for their infant son with coursework as a theology graduate student. Instead, Milagro said, she offers their nanny a living wage, benefits, and good working conditions.

“I wanted to feel that we were affirming her rights, so she would pass on that level of respect to my son,” Milagro told us. “If I can do this, and there are companies out there saying they can’t afford to do the right thing, that angers me.”

She was also angry when Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. She’s been working with a domestic worker employer group called Hand in Hand, a part of the larger National Domestic Worker Coalition.

“Our goal is to bring people together to create the kinds of worker relationships they want with people in their homes,” Danielle Feris, the national director of Hand in Hand, told us. “There will just be more and more people that need care in the home, so this touches all families.”

Milagro and other domestic worker employers say their stand is about much more than enlightened self-interest. They say this is an important step toward recognizing the important contributions that women and minority groups make to society and creating an economy focused on addressing human needs.

“Care, we can say, is undervalued across the board,” Feris said.

In addition to reintroducing the bill in Sacramento this year, the coalition is pushing similar legislation in Massachusetts and Illinois.

“I think the domestic workers have done a fantastic job at organizing across the country,” Ammiano said. “Making a movement of something isn’t easy, but once it gets traction then it’s tough to ignore.”

Like Milagro and Ammiano, Molina said she was bitterly disappointed by Brown’s veto, although all say it only strengthened their resolve to win the fight this year. “I felt very sad, depressed, and betrayed,” Molina said. “But we will win this…And I think the movement for women, workers, and immigrants will only grow from us winning.”

Domestic Workers Coalition campaign coordinator Katie Joaquin noted that the campaign is about triggering a cultural shift as much as it’s about winning legal protections, as important as they may be. “Once this bill passes and we have basic protections doesn’t mean the abuses will stop,” she said, noting that this is really about valuing care work.

“It’s bringing people together around the care we need,” Joaquin said. “These are conversations that are breaking new ground. The bill is really something that gets the ball rolling.”

Once some household work gets recognized, it’s not a big step toward a conversation about valuing all kinds of caring work and including that in our measures of economic progress.

“We definitely support the idea of valuing all care work, both paid and unpaid,” Feris said. “We all have something to gain by valuing each other.”



Author and researcher Riane Eisler has been a leading thinker and advocate for creating a more caring economy for decades, work that resulted in her seminal 1988 book The Chalice and the Blade, which sold half a million copies and was lauded as a groundbreaking analysis of the gender roles in ancient and modern history. She followed that with The Real Wealth of Nations in 2007, and the creation of the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS) and the Caring Economy Campaign.

Eisler takes issue with what most people call “the economy,” a wasteful and incomplete system that doesn’t actually economize in connecting what we have to what we need. She persuasively argues that it makes sense in both human and fiscal terms to value caring and caregiving, for one another and the natural world, providing myriad examples of countries, cultures, and companies that have benefited from that approach.

“In a way, the concepts are very simple. What could be more simple than saying the real wealth of nations isn’t financial? It consists of the contributions of people and nature,” Eisler told us by phone from her home in Monterey.

On March 20, Eisler gave a Congressional Briefing (attended by members and staffers in the Rayburn House Office Building) entitled “The Economic Return From Investing in Care Work & Early Childhood Education,” presenting a report on the issue that CPS and the Urban Institute released in December: “National Indicators and Social Wealth.”

“I think this is extremely timely,” Eisler told us, noting that the Republican Party’s currently aggressive fiscal conservatism must be countered with evidence that meeting people’s real needs is better economic policy than simply catering to Wall Street’s interests.

Her address to Congress followed ones that Eisler has given to the United Nations General Assembly and other important civic organizations around the world, and it was followed the next day by an address she gave to the State Department entitled: “What’s Good for Women is Good for World: Foundations of a Caring Economy.”

While Eisler said “there are people who are very excited about it,” she admits that her ideas have made little progress with the public even as the global economy increasingly displays many of the shortcomings she’s long warned against. “This is still very much on the margins.”

But that could be changing, particularly given the political organizing work that has been done in recent years around the rights of domestic workers and immigrants and on behalf of the interests of children and the poor, some of it drawing on the work of liberal economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.

“The Gross Domestic Product is a very poor measure of economic health,” she told us, noting that it perversely counts excessive healthcare spending, rapid resource depletion, and the cleanups of major oil spills as positive economic activity.

Erwin de Leon, a Washington DC policy researcher, opens “National Indicators and Social Wealth” with a quote from a speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968 criticizing GDP as a bad measure of progress: “It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

De Leon then writes: “An urgent need met by measuring a nation’s social wealth is identifying the attributes of a society that make it possible to create and support the development of the full capacities of every individual through the human life span. Social wealth indicators identify these drivers, with special focus on the economic value of caring for and educating children and the contributions of women and communities of color.”

The carefully documented report makes an economic argument that investment in caregiving and early childhood development more than pays for itself over the long run in terms of increased productivity and decreased costs from crime and other social ills, creating a happier and more egalitarian society in the process.

“Nobody talks about the work that immigrant women do and how it contributes to productivity. They free us up to do other things, but we don’t count it,” De Leon told us in a phone interview. “We put lots of value on numbers and the views of economists. The problem with the numbers is it’s an economic number that just values production.”

Eisler’s approach is neither liberal nor conservative, and she takes equal issue with capitalism and socialism as they’ve been practiced, labeling them both “domination-based” systems (as opposed to the “partnership-based” systems she advocates) that devalue caregiving and real human needs.

In fact, she seems to be even harder on progressives than those on the other end of the ideological spectrum, given the Left’s stated concern for women and communities of color. It was a point that Ammiano echoed: “There’s a lot of liberal guilt, but the follow-through has yet to happen.”

“What this entails is re-examining everything,” Eisler told us. “It starts with examining the underlying beliefs and values.”



Even in supposedly enlightened San Francisco, things are getting worse. On March 26, following a battle with SEIU Local 1021 that began last fall, the city’s Department of Human Resources submitted to a labor mediator its proposal to lower the salaries for new hires in 43 job categories, including vocational nurses, social workers, and secretaries.

The rationale: Those workers were paid more than market rates based on a survey of other counties. But it’s also true that those positions are disproportionately held by women and minorities. In the 1980s, San Francisco made a policy decision to raise the pay of what were traditionally female-dominated professions, part of a nationwide campaign to erase decades of pay inequity.

“The city is rolling back decades of historic work on pay equity in this city,” SEIU Political Director Chris Daly told us. “We were concerned about equal treatment of workers who were disproportionately women and people of color.”

DHS spokesperson Susan Gard told us, “The city is committed to that principal, equal pay for equal work, and we don’t think our proposal erodes that.” But she couldn’t explain why that was true. In reality, the move will lower the salaries for women that come to work for the city.

Those involved in the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights campaign mince no words when it comes to seeing the long history of sexism in political and economic institutions as one of the main obstacles they face.

“In so many ways, domestic work is women’s work, and women’s work has always been undervalued and underpaid,” Milagro said.

She even saw it growing up as child when she accompanied her father when he did housekeeping work, when he was treated “as nonentity, not human,” abuse and mistreatment that was exacerbated by the twin facts that he was an immigrant doing women’s work.

“Sexism has undervalued care work,” Feris said.

Ammiano likened the current struggle to the gay rights movement, and he said that when he started as a teacher back in the 1970s and wanted to teach in the early primary grades, he was told that was for women.

“It’s the feminization of labor,” Ammiano said. “When you have institutional sexism, you have to peel it back layer by layer.”

Eisler is equally direct: “We’ve all been taught to marginalize anything connected to the feminine,” she said.

She noted the vastly disproportionate global poverty rates of women compared to men and said “it’s because most are full or part-time caregivers,” work that isn’t often compensated.

Eisler said the current economic system “marginalizes and dehumanizes half the population,” asking how that could ever be considered ethical or equitable. She dismisses arguments that we can’t afford to value caregiving or work done in the home, noting that “there’s always money for the masculine values” of war and economic expansion.

Ammiano said the cultural blinders that prevent people from seeing how society discriminates against women and the work they do makes the problem more insidious and tougher to solve.

“If they’re doing it deliberately, it’s almost better because you can sink you teeth into it, but if it’s not deliberate then it’s tougher to corral,” he said.

Yet there could be subtle but important changes underway in how people value the roles of men and women in society.

There are indications that substantial majorities of people increasingly see men and masculine values as a big part of the problems the people of the world are facing. Author John Gerzema, whose forthcoming book is entitled Athena Doctrine: How Women (And the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, revealed some of the extensive polling research behind his book in a recent TED Talk.

Much of it points to what he called a “global referendum on men,” with strong majorities in countries around the world — with Canada the only exception — agreeing with the statements “I’m dissatisfied with the conduct of men in my country” and “The world could be better if men thought more like women.”

He and his research partners also had the tens of thousands of people they surveyed rate a list of traits as either masculine or feminine, and then later he had respondents state the traits they most wanted to see in their political leaders, finding that people around the world have begun to strongly prefer feminine traits to male ones in their leaders.

His conclusion: “Femininity is the operating system of 21st Century progress.”



The “silver tsunami” — Baby Boomers reaching old age and about to need more care — is about to break.

POWER, Senior Action Network, and many other San Francisco-based organizations in the Caring Across Generations campaign are part of a national push to increase access to and investment in caregiving, from early childhood development through care for those with disabilities to elder care.

“The caregiver industry is something we should invest in,” said POWER’s Garza. “We believe in a society that values care and we want to value that work.”

Yet with short-term, bottom-line thinking guiding the decisions, that requires a bold paradigm shift. Instead, the popular state In-Home Support Services program — which provides some compensation for caregivers of those with disabilities — is now facing an 8 percent cut as part of the recent settlement to lawsuits filed to prevent the 20 percent cut that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed.

The SF-based lawyer who filed the lawsuit, Stacey Leyton, told us this was the best settlement possible given the current political climate and the risk of deeper cuts if the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the state’s favor. But she thinks any IHHS cuts are short-sighted: “Any cuts to home care may balance the budget ledger now, but they can cause more costs later in the form of nursing home care and emergency room visits.”

James Chionsini, a community organizer with the Senior and Disability Action (SDA, formerly Senior Action Network), tells us that in addition to the sheer size of the “silver tsunami” coming through — which will require a huge influx of caregivers — efforts by the federal and state governments to contain medical costs could hurt the “upper-poor,” who are required to somehow pay a share of their MediCal health care costs.

That’s one reason why SDA, POWER, and other groups are supporting several campaigns aimed at creating a more caring society, from the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to Caring Across Generations to basic, bread-and-butter political organizing efforts.

“Organizing is so important,” Garza said, while Chionsini said, “It’s about raising the profile of people who are providing care.”

Milagro said that if the immigrant women who do domestic work score a major victory, that could empower other marginalized groups. “It’s about a change in consciousness,” she said. “This can show a path for other movements to build, strengthen, and work together.”

Garza agrees that important, foundational changes are already underway, even though they will require lots of hard organizing work to bring them to fruition.

“There is a groundswell. This is happening,” she said, noting that it revolves around asking important questions. “How do you look at an economy not rooted in patriarchy? What would it look like if we had to compensate mothers?”

Next week: Part II, Do we care about the natural world?

Labor activist urges “innovation” in workers’ rights organizing

Even as renowned labor activist Bill Fletcher Jr. geared up for a talk last Thursday to describe the dire situation he believes the labor movement is facing, local organizers had victories to celebrate.

Fletcher joined organizers from the Filipino Community Center, OUR Walmart, PODER and POWER for a March 7 forum hosted by San Francisco Jobs With Justice, called “Labor at the Crossroads.”

Prior to the discussion, Fletcher told the Guardian he believes the national labor movement is witnessing a “final offensive” from big business and right-wing interests, and “an attempt to destroy unions altogether.” He also criticized a reluctance among national labor leaders to openly recognize the gravity of the situation. Fletcher’s latest book, published last August, is titled They’re Bankrupting Us, and 20 Other Myths About Unions.

Fletcher said he believes labor should place less emphasis on “being invited to this or that social occasion,” and more on reaching out to community-based organizations to foster movement building. He said he thought there was a need for “innovation” by organized labor, such as forging alliances with the unemployed, or reaching out to under-employed workers earning low wages in retail positions. “The labor movement grew by being audacious … by making the comfortable uncomfortable,” he said.

Despite Fletcher’s bleak portrait and the generally discouraging trends of the day, such as the impacts of the sequester, an international move toward austerity and stubbornly high unemployment in the United States, representatives from San Francisco Jobs with Justice nevertheless were able to point to some recent worker victories.

Many San Franciscans who gathered for “Labor at the Crossroads” were encouraged by successful negotiations that resulted in what they viewed as a much-improved deal for the San Francisco CPMC hospital project, which included stronger local hiring requirements and other items labor and community organizers had fought for.

Organizers also applauded last month’s Chinese Progressive Association victory against Dick Lee Pastry on behalf of workers subjected to wage-theft violations. The San Francisco Chinatown restaurant was forced to pay a whopping $525,000 in back wages and penalties.

At the state level, the California Domestic Workers’ Coalition kicked off its mobilization last week in Los Angeles urging passage of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, authored by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano. The legislation would extend basic labor protections to housekeepers, childcare workers and caregivers, who collectively represent a primarily immigrant workforce. At the national level, momentum is starting to build around the Fair Minimum Wage Act, with supporters calling on lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“The union movement should be helping unemployed workers get organized, fight back and fight for jobs,” Fletcher said. “There is no significant organization of the unemployed – no significant force that has taken up this issue and said, we need to build a mass movement around jobs.”

He urged local organizers to identify priorities. “We have to go forward with, what is the vision?” he said. “What do the people of Oakland and San Francisco need?”

Why labor should oppose the pipeline


OPINION As pressure from the fossil-fuel industry, conservative Canadian and US politicians, and some construction unions mounts on President Obama to greenlight the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project, a growing coalition has a different message.

On February 17, tens of thousands rallied against the pipeline in cities across the US, including San Francisco — a testament to the climate movement, ranchers and farmers, First Nations leaders, most Canadian unions, some US unions (including my nurses’ organization), transport and domestic workers, and young people who are rightfully alarmed over the global impact of Keystone XL.

For nurses, who already see patients sickened by the adverse effects of pollution and infectious diseases linked to air pollutants and the spread of water and food borne pathogens associated with environmental contaminants, Keystone XL presents a clear and present danger.

First, extracting tar sands is more complex than conventional oil drilling, requiring vast amounts of water and chemicals. The discharge accumulates in highly toxic waste ponds and risks entering water sources that may end up in drinking water, as is already occurring.

Second, the corrosive liquefied bitumen form of crude the pipeline would carry is especially susceptible to leaks that can spill into farmland, water aquifers and rivers on route, threatening an array of adverse health outcomes.

Public health costs from fossil-fuel production in the US through contaminants in our air, rivers, lakes, oceans, and food supply are already pegged at more than $120 billion every year by the National Academy of Sciences. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that exposure to particulate matter emitted from fossil fuel plants is a cause of heart attacks, long term respiratory illness including asthma, cancer, developmental delays and reproductive problems. Global-warming inducted higher air temperatures can also increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases like the West Nile virus.

That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg given the planet altering consequences of rising sea levels, intensified weather events including droughts, floods and super storms already in evidence, and mass dislocation of coastal populations and starvation that may well follow our failing to stem climate change.

Far more jobs would be created by converting to a green economy. As economist Robert Pollin put it in his book Back to Full Employment, every $1 million spent on renewable clean energy sources creates 16.8 jobs, compared to just 5.2 jobs created by the same spending on fossil-fuel production.

And, as one person acerbically commented on a recent New York Times article, there are no jobs on a dead planet.

Further, stumping for the pipeline puts labor in league with the many of the most anti-union, far right corporate interests in the U.S., such as the oil billionaire Koch Brothers and energy corporations, abetted by the politicians who carry their agenda.

The future for labor should not be scrambling for elusive crumbs thrown down by corporate partners, but advocating for the larger public interest, as unions practiced in the 1930s and 1940s, the period of labor’s greatest growth and the resulting emergence of a more egalitarian society.

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and co-president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of nurses.




Confronting Climate Change Panel Discussion

Women’s Building, 3542 18th St., SF. 7-9 p.m., free. Join Breathe California, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the Golden Gate Health Partnership for a panel discussion on youth-led movements that seek solutions to global climate change. Speakers will include representatives from Alliance for Climate Education, People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), and others. The evening will begin with a networking reception with light refreshments, followed by a panel discussion beginning at 7:30.


Lecture: 50 years of creating radical change at Glide

Berkeley Arts & Letters at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing, Berk. (800) 838-3006, 7:30pm, $10 in advance ($5 students), $12 at the door. The Reverend Cecil Williams and his wife, Janice Mirikitani, tell the story of half a century of advocating for a disenfranchised community through San Francisco’s famed Glide church in their book, Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change in a Community Called Glide. Listen to Williams share stories of his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, the assassination of Harvey Milk, and his clashes with conservative church factions as Glide pushed the boundaries.

Celebrating Domestic Worker Organizing

ILWU, Ship Clerk’s Local 34, 4 Berry, SF. 6:30-8:30pm, free. The Labor Archives & Research Center hosts a program entitled “More than a Labor of Love: the Work of Home Care,” highlighting the history of domestic workers in the United States. Refreshments at 6:30 followed by a 7 p.m. talk by Eileen Boris, who is co-author, with Jennifer Klein, of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State. Mujeres Unidas y Activas, a grassroots organization of Latina women, will provide an organizing update on domestic worker issues.

Bad and good news from the Guv


First, the bad news: Jerry Brown has vetoed a couple of important bills by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, showing that he’s still a strange and unpredictable guy. He rejected a measure that would have provided some basic labor protections to domestic workers and another that would have opened up state prisons to a modicum of media access. His message on domestic workers was confusing (gee, maybe it would cost more to make sure people get meal breaks); on the media access, it was just bizarre:

“Giving criminals celebrity status through repeated appearances on television will glorify their crimes and hurt victims and their families,” Brown wrote in his veto message for Assembly Bill 1270.

What? The notion that the press might be able to interview prisoners about conditions behind bars in an agency that consumes more than $10 billion a year in state funds will “glorify crimes?” Sorry, but Jerry is out of his mind.

From Ammiano’s press release:

“Press access isn’t just to sell newspapers. It’s a way for the public to know that the prisons it pays for are well-run,” Ammiano said. “The CDCR’s unwillingness to be transparent is part of what has led to court orders on prison health care and overcrowding. We should know when the California prisons aren’t being well run before it goes to court. I invite the Governor to visit the SHU [special housing unit/solitary confinement] to see for himself why media access is so important.”

Same goes for the TRUST Act, which had the support of a lot of local police chiefs, the mayor of Los Angeles and Assembly Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

On the other hand, Brown did sign a bill by Sen. Mark Leno that could turn out to be the best budget news San Francisco’s had in years. SB 1492 would allow the Board of Supervisors and the voters to reinstate, just in this city, the vehicle license fee that former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut, to such disastrous effect, when he first took office. If the supervisors put it on the ballot and the voters approve, a two percent hike in the car tax could raise $70 million a year for the city — more than triple the amount that the mayor has agreed to raise in his weak gross receipts tax proposal.

That law goes on the books Jan. 1 — and the supes should immediately take up the challenge and approve the VLF hike for the next even-year ballot, November 2014.

Then the Guv vetoed Leno bills protecting cell phone users from warrantless searches and alloing the state to recognize more than two people as parents of a child.

Sen. Leland Yee’s bill allowing juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole to get a second chance made it passed Brown’s desk.

So what do we make of the governor? About the usual — he’s random.

Workers celebrate launch of wage theft task force


San Francisco’s wage theft task force, approved in June, had its first meeting today.

The wage theft task force formed to strengthen the city response to workers exploited by wage theft, which can include non-payment of the minimum wage or of hours worked, non-payment of overtime, illegal deductions from worker paychecks, or failure to pay a worker at all.

The group is made up of workers’ rights advocates and government leaders at labor law enforcement agencies, as well as workers and employers. They plan to meet monthly and to release a report in one year with recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for legislation to continue to combat wage theft.

They were also joined by Dolores Huerta at an announcement today celebrating the first meeting. Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers with César Chávez and has led a life dedicated to ending exploitation of workers. Wage theft, she said, “is not something that only affects workers.”

It hurts employers, she said, by putting “honest employers at a disadvantage.” And “the government loses too,” in the form of dollars lost for social security, unemployment insurance, and other government services funded by taxes on wages paid to employees.

Many workers are reluctant to speak out when they are denied pay, fearing retaliation or losing their jobs.

“When you are living paycheck to paycheck, if you lose your job, your whole family is going to suffer,” said Huerta.

Despite these obstacles, workers have come forward for years to expose the widespread problem.

One such worker, Afredil Colindies, was present at today’s announcement. “I was working seven days a week with no breaks. Sometimes I would get paid, sometimes I would go through extended periods without getting paid,” said Colindies. “When the café where he worked went out of busines, he said, “I still had unpaid wages.”

“The reason we in City Hall finally realized how big a problem this is, is that they had the courage to come forward” said Sup. Campos who helped create the task force alongside Sup. Eric Mar.

“Although the governor has vetoed the domestic workers bill of rights, we are still moving forward for workers here in San Francisco” said Mar.

About 50 workers were in the room celebrating the launch of the task force, the result of years of work from groups like the Progressive Workers Alliance- a coalition of the Chinese Progressiave Association, Young Workers United, the Filipino Community Center and others. The room broke into an energetic chant of “si se puede,” the rallying cry of United Farm Workers, as the announcement ended.

“What starts in San Francisco goes through California, then all across the country” said Huerta.

Guardian voices: Finally, rights for domestic workers


The national domestic workers’ movement is on the cusp of making history in California. Any day now, the state’s Domestic Bill of Rights (AB 899) – only the second such piece of legislation in the country – could be passed on the Senate floor, finally bringing respect and recognition to 200,000 workers who have been systematically excluded from labor laws for 74 years.

In what could be the final hours of this hard-fought, multi-year campaign, grassroots domestic worker leaders are counting on a rising tide of public support to finally bring victory. Earlier in the month, the New York Times endorsed the bill (sponsored by our own Assemblyman Tom Ammiano), and last week’s video of support from “Rec & Park” actress Amy Poehler has led to a new surge in national support. You can learn about the group’s work and weigh in here, today.

I’ve been inspired by the National Domestic Workers Alliance since its founding in 2007, and have been carefully watching its cutting-edge approach to women’s leadership, grassroots organizing, worker rights, and movement-building. But it was not until last week, when I talked at length with one of the movement’s grassroots leaders, that the politics of this struggle became personal.

On Aug. 21, I spoke to Emiliana Acopio, a caregiver with a gentle but strong voice, fiercely proud of the love and care she provides to elderly people and a determined leader of the CA Domestic Worker Bill of Rights campaign. She was on her way to Sacramento with hundreds of domestic workers and their supporters, for possibly the 12th time (she’s lost count), to educate legislators about domestic workers’ need for basic rights like a minimum wage, overtime, and the right to at least one day of rest each week. And in the process, she educated me.

I don’t think of myself as someone who depends on a domestic worker. But Acopio helped me to recognize that my 94 year-old grandfather’s mind, body, and spirit are all in such amazing shape in no small measure because of the devoted daily care of a remarkable woman named Sandra. I love my Grandpa Lee like a second father, but the home he treasures is in Delaware and my home is here, 3,000 away. He is famously sharp for 94, still able to tell hilarious and detailed coming-of-age stories from more than 70 years ago. He still sings in the church choir every Sunday. But the reality is that every day, he needs help.

Sandra arrives every morning at the same time. Grandpa is already sitting in his favorite chair, awaiting her arrival. She asks about Grandpa’s night, how he’s feeling today. She makes his coffee, with just the right amount of the same sugar and creamer he’s been using for decades.  She puts ice in his cereal, just the way he likes it. At the kitchen counter, she carefully counts out his many medications and pounds them into a little paste. She pauses in front of all those bottles, making note of which refills are needed. She mixes her perfect little paste with applesauce and gently sets the bowl and spoon in front of him. His day begins.

Sandra is not a biological relative, but the care and compassion she shows to my Grandpa Lee far exceeds what some of my own kin are capable of. She tell us that she does it as a labor of love — but the reality is that she is a caregiver worker, and like Acopio and 2.5 million other domestic workers in the nation, she does not have the labor protections that most US workers take for granted. Her wages and working conditions are completely dependent on my family’s sense of fairness. Should we fail or forget to pay her wages, she has little recourse. Should we lose our minds and begin demanding much more work for no more pay, what could she do? She is not a wealthy woman, and her family needs the income just as much as my Grandfather needs her support.

Acopio knows about the fundamental vulnerability of domestic workers – working behind closed doors, under-valued and exploited in the privacy of other people’s homes:

They hired me to take care of their elderly parents but then expected me to cook, clean, and care for the entire family. And they were very disrespectful to me. I did all I could to make sure their needs were met, and it was important to me that their aging family members felt loved and respected. But it hurt me, especially as a Filipina taking care of a Filipino family, that I was not given that same basic respect. That’s what this is all about. Our work makes all other work possible; we need the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights because we deserve respect, recognition, and dignity.

Acopio shared with me the challenges of organizing domestic workers, the need to share personal stories and organizing victories to break through the immobilizing fear so many women – mostly immigrant women of color – face.  We were talking on the phone with the help of a translator, and it wasn’t until the interview was over that her translator explained to me that Acopio – grassroots leader, fighter for worker rights, and a longtime caregiver for the elderly – was elderly herself. At 79, she continues to work to help provide for her family back home in the Philippines.

It’s been 74 years since federal labor law finally gave most US workers rights like the eight-hour day, overtime, and breaks. But farmworkers and domestic workers were intentionally excluded from that law. The legacy of white supremacy and slavery meant that at the time, fully 65 percent of all Black workers labored in one of those two occupations, and there was a white elite interested in keeping it that way. Black domestic workers and civil rights leaders lobbied against this clearly racist exclusion, but that legacy of racism remains with us to this day.

Despite the organized efforts of Black domestic workers and other women of color – like the groundbreaking campaigns of the National Domestic Workers Union founded by Black domestic worker Dorothy Bolden in 1968 – it wasn’t until the National Domestic Worker Alliance consolidated more than 30 domestic worker organizations and won the groundbreaking NY Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in 2010  that hundreds of thousands of women of color workers finally have basic labor protections.

While the historic role of Black women as domestic workers – as exploited workers, courageous organizers, and even as the critical foot soldiers of the victorious Mongtomery Bus Boycott — is unfortunately ignored or misrepresented in the media, history books, and even sometimes in multi-racial settings, it is never, ever too late to fight the legacy of racism in the United States. The modern-day domestic worker’s movement is largely led by Asian and Latina immigrant women, and their fierce, creative, multi-generational and holistic approach to building this movement has lessons for everyone who cares about justice.

Time Magazine named NDWA director Ai-Jen Poo as one of the world’s most influential people back in April of this year. It was incredible, and provided an entirely new level of national attention to campaigns like the CA Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. But media attention is not the victory that 2.5 million workers want – it’s protection under the law.

What my grandfather’s caregiver receives in wages could not ever properly compensate her for her labor of love. All domestic workers – caregivers, childcare providers and housekeepers– do their work with care and compassion. They also have the right to basic respect, recognition and rights in the workplace. The thousands of stories of wage theft, failure to provide time for rest for live-in workers, and never-ending vulnerability to other acts of exploitation are simply unacceptable.

Stand with me, thousands of organized domestic workers, hundreds of domestic worker employers, the AFL-CIO, the state NAACP and more than 14,000 petition-signers; support the CA Domestic Worker Bill of Rights today. Call your Senator or Governor Jerry Brown today at (916), 445-2841. Go here for more information and help make history.

What will Jerry do?


A few good bills have emerged from the madness of the end of the Legislative session in Sacramento — including measures by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Sen. Leland Yee — and now we have to wait for the governor, who isn’t thinking much beyond Prop. 30.

Jerry’s always odd and unpredictable, but this year, I’m told, he’s focused almost entirely on getting his tax measure approved. He’s told everyone in the state how much everything will suck if we don’t vote Yes, and he’s made it something of a referendum on his leadership. If it goes down, he’s facing almost unthinkable cuts to education and public services — cuts that will make him hugely unpopular. When class sizes go up and UC rejects qualified students and cops get laid off, the voters won’t blame themselves for rejecting Prop. 30; they’ll blame the guv. And Jerry knows it.

So he’s gone all in on this one — and he’s viewing everything he does, including every bill he might sign, through that lens.

Which leaves some very worth legislation up in the air — or rather, since it’s Jerry Brown, up in the ozone.

Ammiano managed to win approval for a measure that would allow the news media to interview inmates in state prisons — something that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has blocked since 1996. Right now, the only way reporters get access to the inside of prisons is on special tours that CDCR sets up — and the jailers get to decide which “random” inmates can talk to the press. It’s pretty basic — In San Francisco, the Sheriff’s Department allows reporters to talk to any prisoner who consents to an interview, and nothing bad has happened. We spend so many billions of dollars on prisons, and we know so little about where it goes. Even the prison guard’s union (Jerry’s BFFs) supports this. Jerry? Who knows.

Another Ammiano bill, AB 889, would require that domestic workers (people who do child care, housecleaning etc.) get basic labor rights, including lunch breaks and overtime. Seems like a no-brainer (and no, it doesn’t apply to your casual high-school babysitter). Lots of support, and it’s hard to see what this has to do with tax policy, but nobody’s sure about the guv.

And everyone’s really unsure what will happen with Sen. Leland Yee’s latest attempt to give juveniles who are sentenced to life without parole at least some opportunity to get out of prison before they die. SB 9 is pretty moderate — it states that a person convicted of a crime as a youth who has already served 15 (FIFTEEN) years can petition a court to reduce the sentence to 25 (TWENTY FIVE) years. Nobody’s getting out without serving some long, hard time, but since someone who is an accessory to murder at 15 almost certainly doesn’t have the brain development of an adult, and no other industrialized nation in the world allows LWOP for anyone under 18, and since there are only 300 people in the who state prison system who would be eligible for sentence changes under this law, I can’t imagine anyone opposing it. Seriously, Jerry. Can you veto something like this? The Jesuits would go batty.




Guardian Voices: On losing


I’m turning 43 today and feeling glad to be alive. I would love to be writing about the joy of raising children and the mysteries of the universe. But instead, today I’m thinking about last week’s elections, about losing and the nature of long-term struggle. I’m thinking about being born black in 1969, and how, in fact, our side has been losing my whole life. And while this sobering reality about the balance of forces in the nation could make a sane person completely despondent, today I’m considering it a challenge to radically rethink the way we progressives try to change the world. 

The truth is that despite historic victories and truly incredible grassroots organizing over the last several decades, we’ve been getting our asses kicked for a long, long time. Since the right and the state got together to crush people’s movements of the 1960s. Since the Republicans built this rightwing coalition, began pushing wedge politics, winning the hearts and minds of white working people, and winning elections all over the country. And since capitalism shifted gears in the 1970s – we call it neoliberalism now — and the war on poverty was pushed aside to make way for the war on poor people specifically and working people generally. Since then, our cities have lost good jobs, union members, safety net services, and in San Francisco, more than half of the entire black population.

Thanks to Fox News, billionaire Republicans, and fragmentation on the left, conservative ideas about government, about individual vs. institutional responsibility, and about the supposed virtues of free markets have taken a powerful hold over the thinking of most Americans. One result: Last week in Wisconsin, despite the truly historic mobilization against the right’s Scott Walker, labor and social justice forces lost a big one. And here in San Francisco, in the heart of the “left coast,” progressives lost control of the Democratic Party to that special brand of “moderate” big-business Democrats who are socially liberal but have been making me embarrassed to be a registered Democrat since – well, since Bill Clinton was in the White House.

Clinton’s “ending welfare as we know it” third-way politics made it ok to talk about ending poverty while at the same time helping people get rich at the expense of poor people all over the world. Gavin Newsom was our local version – more socially liberal, and therefore successfully confusing to a lot of people, but he was nonetheless made of the same cloth.

Are you ready for the good news? Well, not quite yet. I didn’t mention the economic crisis.

If this were a boxing match, I don’t think the referees would have trouble judging this one. The current economic crisis was indeed once a crisis for capitalists — some financial institutions were forced to close shop, other lost billions and Wall Street seemed for a while to be in complete disarray. At one point, one third of Americans supported the Occupy movement and thought socialism was something to consider.

But even taking the ongoing Eurozone crisis into account, the US corporate elites in 2012 are more like a dazed prize fighter momentarily wobbly on his feet than a boxer who’s down for the count. Now, four years after the financial crash, the crisis is primarily a crisis for the rest of us, and our suffering is real. Even the middle class has taken serious punches, and our communities are badly bruised.

Good political spin will not change these real conditions. And the problem is not that organizers and activists, here in the Bay and around the country, aren’t brave and brilliant and working just remarkably hard. And even creating new forms of activism and alliances for the 21st century. But we have to think differently about how we do politics.

Most fundamentally, after so many years of losing in one way or another, too many social justice activists have lost hope of ever winning a truly more just society. Too many of us have settled for short-term gains, defensive fights, and building organizational power.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m deeply committed to local organizing that builds leadership and political power and win’s concrete improvements in people’s lives. But we will certainly never see the society we hold in our dreams without a bold, audacious belief that we can in fact win and govern our city, our state, and the entire country. Like the right – which was, objectively speaking, once weak and playing defense — progressive forces have to share a common belief that we too can build a majority, that we can govern the entire country based on values of racial justice, equity, sustainability and the collective good.  There’s a big difference between losing and feeling, en masse, like losers.

There is so much already in motion to build upon, so much potential to seize the opportunities that this historic moment provides. Inspired by Arab Spring, we too can be bold and audacious in our visions of what’s possible. After we rally against what’s wrong, let’s make plans for how we are really going to solve the crises of the 21st century and make the world a better place. Local political battles are essential opportunities to build new leadership (especially in communities of color), to change everyday people’s consciousness, and defend the ground we’ve already won. Across the nation, more organizations should take lessons from efforts like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, San Francisco Rising, CA Calls, and the national Unity Alliance that are breaking the fragmentation of progressive forces, moving beyond organizational ego, and consolidating people power. But above all, we have to let go of the idea that it’s someone else’s role to run the world or that having power is just for self-serving politicians. Unafraid of power and determined to slug it out, let’s make my next forty years about how we turned it around, had the Right on the run, built a movement and a society that we are proud to leave our children.

We are not down for the count. We are still in the ring swinging. Our opponent is powerful, and we’re already weak from a long fight, but we have the capacity to regroup, take advantage of our opponent’s weaknesses and make the most of our strengths, plot a new offensive strategy, and win — and win decisively. Losing is part of political struggle, it’s part of history, but there are more rounds to go. And what’s even better, unlike boxing, in the real world of building a movement for social justice, we engage in the struggle together. What happens next is up for grabs, and history is ours to make.

N’Tanya Lee was formerly the director of Coleman Advocates and one of the founding members of San Francisco Rising. She’s a veteran organizer with racial justice and LGBT and youth movement struggles in New York City, Michigan and the Bay. She now works on national movement building projects, advises local social justice leaders and is raising a son with her wife in Southeastern San Francisco.