Known for Opposing Bilingual Education, Ron Unz says he Supports Rise in Minimum Wage

So this is interesting: Ron Unz who is known throughout California as being someone who has thrown his millions into ballot propositions to a) halt public affirmative action for women and minorities (Prop. 209, 1996) and b) to ban bilingual teaching in public schools (Prop. 227, 1998)  but who opposed Prop. 187 (1994), which tried to bar welfare, health care and public schooling to undocumented immigrants, is now pushing an initiative in favor of increasing the California minimum wage — by a lot.

From a conservative position of wanting to diminish the size and reach of government, he is being consistent.

…significantly raising the minimum wage would help curb government spending on social services, strengthen the economy and make more jobs attractive to American-born workers.

“There are so many very low-wage workers, and we pay for huge social welfare programs for them,” he said in an interview. “This would save something on the order of tens of billions of dollars. Doesn’t it make more sense for employers to pay their workers than the government?”

Whether he’ll be joined in that estimation by fellow conservatives who, can’t untangle their economics from their xenophobia –wild about Prop 187 in 1994 for example–  or business conservatives who will cry havoc if they have to pay workers to get near a living wage, remains to be seen.

What his own motives are, of course come into question. What he paid, and pays, his own workers would be interesting to know — not just the indispensable geeks for his software company but those who empty the wastebaskets and clean the toilets.

Those who have long pressed for higher minimum wages are not convinced as of yet:  oh, yeah?  Where have you been?

While unions have backed similar voter initiatives in San Jose and Long Beach, Calif., labor officials are now focused on permanently tying the minimum wage to the rate of inflation [which by the way, Mitt Romney has said he endorses] , and said the measure Mr. Unz is proposing could be a distraction. Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, was hardly enthusiastic when informed of Mr. Unz’s plans.

“He has not shown a great deal of support for workers’ issues in the past and was nowhere to be seen in the legislative debate here, so it’s not really clear what the motivation is here,” Mr. Smith said. “But he is saying some things that are the same as what we’ve been saying all along.”

Although Robert Reich hasn’t weighed in on the Unz proposal yet, they both point to Henry Ford’s wisdom of paying his workers enough so they could buy his cars, as smart conservatism.

At any rate, it seems we’ll get a chance to consider all this:

He plans to pour his own money into a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage in California to $10 an hour in 2015 and $12 in 2016, which would make it by far the highest in the nation. Currently, it is $8 — 75 cents higher than the federal minimum.

Act. Fast.

Eliseo Medina who cut his organizing teeth with Cesar Chavez’  United Farmworkers is undertaking a Gandhian like fast, in the manner of his early teacher.

Saying he will fast until his body gives out, Mr. Medina has lost 16 pounds; his face, sprouting a sparse beard, looks sunken and gray. But he perks up when he talks about the millions of immigrants — including many members of his organization, the Service Employees International Union, and a few of his own relatives — who are living in the country without legal papers.

Eliseo Medina on 11th day of fast for immigration reform.

Eliseo Medina on 11th day of fast for immigration reform.

“Whatever little sacrifice I am making doesn’t compare with the sacrifice these immigrants made when they came to this country for a better life and find themselves living in the shadows and being exploited,” Mr. Medina said, in cadences echoing Mr. Chavez. He wears a brown sweatshirt with the slogan “Act. Fast.” and spends his days in a padded lawn chair, quelling hunger by praying, napping, plotting political strategy and receiving a parade of visitors — including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday morning.

…on Friday, now 67 years old, in a white tent just below the Capitol on the National Mall in the 11th day of a water-only fast he hopes will “touch the heart” of the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, and make him act on immigration.

NY Times

Along with Medina several others are fasting:

Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for the Christian social justice group Sojourners says,

“I don’t fast out of worry, I fast out of hope.”

Along with Harper and Medina, there are three other main fasters: Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota and Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Huffington Post

Of course Speaker Boehner has not yet revealed the presence of a heart:

When Medina asked whether Boehner could meet that day, he was met with a no.

“What about tomorrow?” he said. “Next week?”

Brittany Bramell, Boehner’s spokeswoman, said she wasn’t able to give an answer.

She simply told him: “I can take your concerns and pass them along.”


You can join the fasters at  — perhaps you will be the tipping point to a show of Boehner’s heart.

Domestic Workers Get Some Wage Help

“California’s in-home domestic workers will be entitled to overtime pay for working more than nine hours in a day, or 45 hours in a week, under a law signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The measure, AB241 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, covers as many as 200,000 nannies, cooks, housekeepers and other domestic workers employed by household residents or agencies. It takes effect in January.

“Domestic workers are primarily women of color, many of them immigrants, and their work has not been respected in the past,” said Ammiano, who attended a private signing ceremony with the governor, along with domestic workers and employers.


Good for Ammiano!  Great for the workers, though one wonders why it came to this at all.  Why would those who can afford domestic workers have to be lawed into paying more for work above and beyond? Wouldn’t ALL of them expect overtime or bonuses for more than standard work? And, why haven’t domestic workers been covered under existing labor law?  Who carved out the exceptions, at whose behest and for whose benefits?  [Oh never mind. It is rhetorical.]

And good for Egelko at the Chron for picking this out as important.

Earning Enough to Eat By

Mark Bittman, a New York Times food columnist and author of a small 4 volume set [The Mini Minimalist] of easy recipes of which I am a big fan, does what more foodies should do — looks at the conditions of the many tens of thousands who work in food services around the country.  Good for you Mark!


…a rapidly increasing number of food industry and other retail workers are now fighting for basic rights: halfway decent pay, a real work schedule, the right to organize, health care, paid sick days, vacations and respect. Next week, organizers say, we’ll see a walkout of thousands of workers at hundreds of stores in at least seven cities, including New York and Chicago.

Something is happening here, though exactly what isn’t quite clear. Fast food was never a priority of organized labor — it’s difficult to imagine a traditional union of four million fast-food workers in something like 200,000 locations — but dozens of organizations are now involved, including, to its credit, the Service Employees International Union, which is providing financing and counsel. The upshot: Workers with nothing to lose are demanding a living wage of $15 an hour, and gaining strength and confidence.

Strike! To Get Off Food Stamps

From Eduardo Porter in the NY Times

Mr. Carrillo at a McDonald’s in Midtown Manhattan and Mr. Williams at a Wendy’s in Brooklyn. They both earn a little more than $7 an hour. And they both need food stamps to survive. Last Thursday, both did something they had never done before: they went on strike.

[Isn’t this a government subsidy to the fast food industry?]

More than two million workers toil in food preparation jobs at limited-service restaurants like McDonald’s, according to government statistics. They are the lowest-paid workers in the country, government figures show, typically earning $8.69 an hour. A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning research organization, concluded that almost three-quarters of them live in poverty.

The bad news is:

Fewer than 7 percent of workers in the private sector are in a union. We have the largest share of low-paid jobs in the industrial world, amounting to almost one in four full-time workers, according to the International Labor Organization. And our rates of unionization continue to fall.

Union leaders know they are fighting long odds — hemmed in by legal decisions limiting how they can organize and protest, while trying to organize workers in industries of low skill and high turnover like fast food. But they hope to have come upon a winning strategy, applying some of the tactics that workers used before the Wagner Act created the federal legal right to unionize in 1935.

“We must go back to the strategies of nonviolent disruption of the 1930s,” suggests Stephen Lerner, a veteran organizer and strategist formerly at the Service Employees International Union, one of the unions behind the fast-food strike. “You can’t successfully organize without large-scale civil disobedience. The law will change when employers say there’s too much disruption. We need another system.”

Walmart Strong Advocate for Cutting Fire Prevention Upgrades in Bangladesh

“…two officials who attended a meeting held in Bangladesh in 2011 to discuss factory safety in the garment industry said on Wednesday that the Walmart official there played the lead role in blocking an effort to have global retailers pay more for apparel to help Bangladesh factories improve their electrical and fire safety.

Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop group based in Amsterdam, said Walmart was the company that “most strongly advocated this position.

“… According to the minutes of the meeting, which were made available to The Times, Sridevi Kalavakolanu, a Walmart director of ethical (sic!) sourcing, along with an official from another major apparel retailer, noted that the proposed improvements in electrical and fire safety would involve as many as 4,500 factories and would be “in most cases” a “very extensive and costly modification.

NY Times

I wonder if Walmart Ethical sourcing is paying for the funerals? Still too costly?

Burials on Nov. 27 for some of the 112 victims of the garment factory fire in Bangladesh

Fast Food Slow Raise

Hidden away in the New York section of Thursday’s Times is an article about the poor standing up and beginning to fight their way out of poverty.


Fast-food workers at several restaurants in New York walked off the job on Thursday, firing the first salvo in what workplace experts say is the biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever undertaken in the United States. The effort — backed by community and civil rights groups, religious leaders and a labor union — has engaged 40 full-time organizers in recent months to enlist workers at McDonald’s,Wendy’s, Domino’s, Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants across the city.

… Jonathan Westin, organizing director at New York Communities for Change, a community group that is playing a central role in the effort, said hundreds of workers had already voiced support for the campaign, called Fast Food Forward.

“The fast-food industry employs tens of thousands of workers in New York and pays them poverty wages,” Mr. Westin said. “A lot of them can’t afford to get by. A lot have to rely on public assistance, and taxpayers are often footing the bill because these companies are not paying a living wage.”

… Mr. Westin’s group, New York Communities for Change, has played a major role in the recent uptick in unionizing low-wage workers in New York, many of whom are immigrants. In the past year, his group, working closely with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and other organizations, has helped win unionization votes at four carwashes and six supermarkets in New York.

The sponsors of the fast-food campaign also include, the Black Institute and the Service Employees International Union, a powerful union that is playing a quiet but important role behind the scenes.

Online update to print article

High Skilled Jobs Offering $10/hour. Few Takers

CBS 60 minutes a few weeks ago, had a piece on the shortage of skilled welders and metal cutters being reported endlessly in the press.  I have to say I was shocked to learn that after 2 years of intensive math and practical skills at a Community College the “valued” worker would be earning about $12 an hour.  At 2,000 hours of work a year (40 hour week) that’s $24,000!  In 2012 poverty level for a family of 4 was $23,050.  [At Costco a cashier assistant averages $11.92, with upside of $20 an hour.  MacDonalds crew averages $7.63 and hour.  Minimum wage in San Francisco is $10.24 an hour.]

Adam Davidson reinforced my shock with a piece in the NY Times  on Nov 20th: Skills Don’t Pay the Bills

The secret behind this [so called] skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.

In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.”

More Labor Bashing at Walmart

My goodness, on top of paying $9.10 /hour in Illinois  ( San Francisco minimum wage is $10.24) Walmart (along with 6 other corporations)  is now requiring workers to show up on Thanksgiving to get a jump on Black Friday sales.  Workers don’t like it much, of course, and some of them are planning to walk picket lines in protest.

Walmart, for its part, as anti-workers as a company can be, has filed with the NLRB, claiming there is illegal organizing going on and billion dollar corporations have their rights!

In a rare move, Wal-Mart is trying to stop a union-backed group from staging a series of demonstrations against the company on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.

Wal-Mart Stores, the nation’s largest employer and retailer, has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board — its first in a decade — seeking to prevent the group, known as OUR Walmart, from holding what the group says will be the biggest protests of this kind against the company at hundreds of store

… In this week’s planned events, OUR Walmart, which stands for Organization United for Respect at Walmart, is enlisting a broad range of allies, arranging fliers and letters that community, church and civil rights groups can use to publicize the Black Friday protest. OUR Walmart has even prepared remarks that it is suggesting members of the clergy might use in prayer, “to call upon the world’s largest corporation to treats its workers with justice and fairness. [Greenhouse at NY Times]

More news of Walmart and the push back here, here and here.

Be good folks on two counts: don’t join the Black Friday madness and if you ever go to Walmart print this out and wear it somewhere visible.


And, OUR Walmart folks, get with caps and Ts for your supporters!

Regulations and Bad Behavior #2

Every time the business fawning politicians yawp about over regulation a story like this should be postered to their rose-colored windows.

 Even as the rate of serious injury and fatalities on American farms has fallen, the number of workers dying by entrapment in grain bins and silos has remained stubbornly steady. The annual number of such accidents rose throughout the past decade, reaching a peak of at least 26 deaths in 2010, before dropping somewhat since.

Silos teeming with corn, wheat or soybeans become death traps when grain cascades out of control, asphyxiating or crushing their victims. Since 2007, 80 farmworkers have died in silo accidents; 14 of them were teenage boys.

… Last year, the Labor Department proposed new regulations aimed at tightening protections for children doing farm work.

The proposed federal regulations would have prohibited children under 18 from working in large commercial grain bins, silos or other enclosed spaces. But the Obama administration, sensitive to Republican charges that it was choking the economy with expensive regulations, pulled back the proposed rules this year in the face of furious farm-state objections.

Even those rules would not have covered working conditions on family farms and small operations like the one where Tommy Osier died and which account for 70 percent of grain entrapment accidents.

NY Times

This is why regulations are necessary: people make them so.  Not the boys who get sucked into the avalanches of corn; the men and women and corporations who build, own and manage these colossi — in order to make more profit than that to be made with smaller units or proper safety equipment, regulations and training.

At least the anti-regulators should come out and say it –“14 boys in 5 years?  That’s not so bad!  Heck, more are killed motor-cycle accidents.”

Or, perhaps they might gleefully add, We send 18 year old boys to war, with a good chance they will be maimed or killed, why discriminate against doing the same in grain silos?” [In fact 2007-2012 saw 21 18 year old “boys” die in American initiated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.]

The farm interests killed proposed regulations that might have helped deal with this problem, and the Obama Administration completely caved.  Instead of insisting there was a life and death problem and ‘if you don’t like this, what is your solution?’ it caved

 Members of Congress from both parties demanded that the rules be killed in their entirety — largely based on the distorted reading by opponents that they would have forbidden children from performing chores on their own families’ farms.

Democratic senators facing tight races in farm states — including Jon Testerof Montana, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — complained directly to the White House. Bipartisan groups in both chambers of Congress introduced legislation that would overturn the regulations if they were finalized.

The White House made no effort to defend its own Labor Department’s rules, directing Secretary Solis to kill them, Obama administration and Labor Department officials said.

… In April, the Labor Department abruptly withdrew the rules with a brief written statement expressing its commitment to respecting the role of parents and family members in passing down rural traditions.

“To be clear,” it continued in a highly unusual comment, “this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

Public health and farmworker advocates were shocked. One called it a sucker punch to the Labor Department and to groups that had spent more than a decade trying to modernize farm safety rules for working children.

“I’m very frustrated and disgusted with the White House,” said Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and an expert on federal health and safety regulation.

“Normally an agency proposes a regulation and, if there are problems, the agency revises it,” Ms. Steinzor continued. “But we live in an age of greed and insanity, and people on the Hill went crazy. Rather than defend it, the Obama administration just caved.”

See Regulations and Bad Behavior #1, here.