Momentous week for working Californians
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
This was a historic week for working people – one that reinforces why I am so proud to be standing shoulder to shoulder with fast-food workers, nurses, teachers and firefighters in the labor movement demanding a better life for all Californians.
On Monday, the Supreme Court deadlocked on a corporate-backed challenge to labor union rights. The stalemate resulted in upholding decades of Supreme Court precedent that preserves the rights of working people who form a union to ensure that union is protected from so-called free riders who don’t pay their fair share for the benefit they receive.
That same day in Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown stood with fast-food workers and labor leaders from across the state to announce a historic deal that would make California the first state to raise its minimum wage to $15.
If it becomes law, the deal would:
- Raise the wage to $15 by 2022 by increasing the minimum wage 50 cents in each of the first two years, followed by a $1 annual increase thereafter until it reaches $15.
- Allow small businesses (25 employees or less) an additional year to reach $15.
- Increase the minimum wage commensurate with the consumer price index annually, with a cap of 3.5 percent each year.
The deal allows the governor to pause the program based on increasing jobless claims and a state budget shortfall. And it leaves open the possibility for the Legislature to adjust the plan in the future.
As the plan was unveiled, Burger King worker Holly Dias and Gov. Brown embraced. For Holly and other low-wage workers, this deal means that soon, no California workers employed full time will live below the federal poverty line.
On Wednesday, the Assembly Appropriations Committee heard testimony from more workers before voting to approve the plan. The committee’s Republicans, along with Orange County’s only Democratic assemblyman, Tom Daly, dissented, solidifying their positions on the wrong side of history.
Thursday, both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the plan, sending it to the governor’s desk.
Increasing the wage will have an immediate and powerful impact on the lives of more than 5.6 million people – 36 percent of the state’s workforce – according to a UC Berkeley Labor Center analysis released this week. These are not teenagers working part time. Some 96 percent are adults, and nearly half have at least some college experience. They are family breadwinners.
When working people stand together in their unions and use their strength in numbers to advocate for fairness, we make our communities better. That is our history – the unions of our grandparents’ generation created an American middle class that was the envy of the world.
This week, in the face of that American Dream slipping away, workers clawed back ground we’ve lost, moving us closer to addressing the income inequality that has shamefully defined this generation.
Those who will benefit from this increase may not be part of a union, but that didn’t matter to the unions who worked so hard to make this deal happen. What matters to us, what mattered this week, is our absolute belief that in our country, anyone who works full time and plays by the rules should be able to live a decent life.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: April 1, 2016