Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Over 2,000 March and Rally in San Diego for $15 Minimum Wage

SDSU Event One of 230 in a Nationwide Mobilization April 15


Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Teachers and Students United

Rev. Cornelius Bowser and Mark Jones

Rallying the Crowd

Upside-Down Sign

United Domestic Workers

Clapper and Fist in the Air

Lyrical Groove hip-hop band opened the program

In All Languages

Fight for $15 for All

Richard Barrera (center)

Rev. Beth Hansen (center)

Taking It to the Streets

Reclaiming SDSU for Justice

April 15, 2015 was more than just the day federal and state income taxes were due. A nationwide mobilization bringing together labor unions, faith-based groups, civil-rights organizations for people of color, and student and teacher groups staged actions in 230 U.S. cities to highlight the growing inequality of wealth and income in this country and propose a $15 per hour minimum wage as one part of a solution. Various events were held throughout San Diego, including an informal march through North Park at 7:30 a.m., but the big rally and march were scheduled for 4 p.m. at the vast plaza that serves as the entrance to San Diego State University (SDSU).
Organizers of the SDSU event put together an unusual rally program. Instead of inviting elected officials and prominent community leaders, they used ordinary workers to tell their tales of how hard it is to live on today’s wages. Richard Barrera, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Federation, led off the program, but he was virtually the only traditional “community leader” on it.
Barrera explained that the “Fight for 15” movement being pushed at the rally began with the heroic struggles of workers at fast-food restaurants, many of whom lost income and put their jobs at risk by picketing their employers during business hours demanding minimum-wage increases. “These courageous fast-food workers are now joined by the United Domestic Workers (UDW), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), janitors, laborers, construction workers and people all over the labor movement. Our message — the fight for a living wage and to organize and join a union — is a struggle the public supports.” Barrera called the “Fight for 15” movement “the rebirth of the labor movement, the middle class and democracy.”
“All my life, I thought if I worked hard I’d get what I worked for,” said Sarah Martin, adjunct professor of English at San Diego City College. “I went to college, got a master’s degree and accumulated $60,000 in student loans, but there just aren’t that many jobs for teachers.” Martin said that 25 percent of adjunct professors — who not only get paid considerably less per class unit they teach but don’t have tenure or any other guarantees of job security — “are enrolled in at least one public-assistance program.”
Another professor, Alberto Macias, said he has to have three jobs to make ends meet: a part-time lecturer at SDSU, an adjunct at City College and a staff position at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. He said his pay at SDSU is $63 per hour — but only for 10 hours per month, no matter how much time he actually puts in at his job. He linked his own struggle to the decline of the percentage of American workers in unions, which was 20 percent 20 years ago and is now just 11 percent. “The union jobs have left the country,” he said.
According to Macias, universities are doing major cost-shifting that’s harming both teachers and students. “More universities and colleges are taxing students with the bill for their education,” he explained. “Education should not be for sale. It’s a fundamental right. Especially in the U.S., with the greatest accumulation of wealth in the world, education should be free.” Macias said the U.S. could easily afford to fund a college education for all students who could benefit from one if it cut back its defense budget and abandoned its imperialist agenda overseas.
Macias was followed by Jeanette Corona, an SDSU senior who talked about her own struggles to survive and stay in school. “We need to raise wages, roll back fees and end student poverty,” she said. “I’ve struggled with my housing. I’ve had to manage my bank account very carefully because I don’t know how I’m going to get food the next day. I’ve been told it’s all my fault, that I should just take out another student loan. I don’t want another loan; I want everyone who’s been humiliated and shushed to stand up. Education is a right, not a privilege.”
“I’m 22 years old, an undocumented immigrant, Chicano and Queer,” said another SDSU student, Jesus Daniel Mandel Carvajal. “The issue is larger than us. Students are exploited daily and have to take one, two, even three low-wage jobs to survive. I don’t just want to survive; I want to thrive.” Carvajal said he spoke for “folks who don’t have access to health care and have to take pill after pill to cope with their headaches, heartaches and soulaches; folks who can’t afford good food and have to resort to 99-cent noodles. We must hold this university and others like it accountable to providing job protections and living wages.”
The program also featured people in more traditional “working-class” jobs, including janitors Ricardo Cortez and Rosa Lopez. “I live paycheck by paycheck, and that’s not making it for me,” said Cortez, a member of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU). “We as union members need to stand up and fight.”
“Everyone who works hard deserves to make a good wage and be treated with respect,” said Lopez, who like Cortez is a janitor represented by SEIU. “I work 365 days a year. I can’t afford to miss a day. I have to decide what bills to pay. I go to school, work seven days a week and take care of my family. That makes this work really hard.”
Contrary to the stereotype many people have that the only workers making minimum wage are young people just entering the labor force, the rally presented single parents — both women and men — who are trying to support their families on minimum-wage jobs.
“I have three children, and the money I make is just not enough,” said hotel worker Joanne Corona. “It’s a very hard, difficult job. They pay us every two weeks and give us barely enough to make the rent. We still have other bills, including gas, food and clothes. Our children ask for recreation that we can’t afford to give them. I am a single mother because the Border Patrol assassinated my husband. Sometimes I have to leave my children alone at home because I can’t afford day care. That’s why I’m in unity with you. We need a dignified salary because it is a heavy workload.”
“I’m a single dad with three children,” said Armando Teyes. “I’m a veteran. Many of us have been deployed and come back unemployed and homeless. We are protecting our rights in this community. Many veterans may not know it’s important to continue the fight.”
Among the most aggressive supporters of “Fight for 15” are the in-home caregivers for people with disabilities. They are represented by the United Domestic Workers (UDW), a strong participant in the “Fight for 15” coalition. [Full disclosure: this author is an in-home caregiver under the public In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program and makes $9.85 per hour taking care of three clients.]
“I’ve been a proud member of the union since 2012,” said Victoria Lara. “Before that I was a food worker, so this fight really hits home for me. You work hard and are paid so little because they can get away with it. I get $9.85 per hour for three clients, including a quadraplegic. Don’t we all deserve dignity? Yes, we do. Today I am proud to stand with all workers. We will tell the corporate CEO’s, lawmakers and university officials we will continue to fight for a union for all workers.”
Doug Moore, executive director of the San Diego local of the UDW, also spoke. “Home-care providers make an average of $10 per hour,” he explained. “We’ve been in negotiations with the County of San Diego for two years for us to get a 25-cent raise. Rallies are good, but we need to make broad changes that will take control of this country and take our democracy back.”
Mark Jones, president of the Black Students’ Coalition at SDSU, made the connection between Martin Luther King’s well-known commitment to civil rights for African-Americans and his much less-known work for economic equality and labor rights. (When King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968, he was there to support a strike by municipal garbage workers against the city.) “As Martin Luther King realized, you cannot have social justice without economic justice,” Jones said. “Social and economic justice are the same thing to me.”
The faith community was represented by Reverend Beth Hansen of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (IFCWJ) and Pastor Cornelius Bowser of Charity Apostolic Church in Santee. “You are not alone,” said Rev. Hansen. “Faith communities stand with you. Clergy stand with you. We are fighting together because this is a struggle for all of us. This is a wave that will not stop because it is a struggle for justice. The stories we’ve told today are accounts of the battle for justice. Everyone who works should be able to live with dignity. No one should be forced to live in their cars.” Rev. Hansen said she’d already committed civil disobedience last September to awaken the consciences of corporate officials, and promised she’d do more.
“In 19 years as a pastor, I’ve seen people doing two or three jobs and not being able to participate in the community,” said Rev. Bowser. “A low-wage worker is like a man in water up to his nose. If anything happens, they will drown. I’m proud to be with all of you to stand and fight for $15. Low-wage jobs and irregular work schedules hurt our families. Parents can’t participate in their children’s lives. In my church I have a parent of two children who works at a fast-food restaurant, and after nine years she still makes barely more than minimum wage. She needs a roommate to survive.”
After Carvajal’s presentation — which he billed as a “poem/speech” — the organizers led the crowd on a march through the SDSU campus and onto the streets. The mood was determined, and the sight of wave after wave of people — many of them dressed in purple, blue, green or red shirts with the logos of the organizations they were in — pouring through SDSU’s hallways and under arches emblazoned with the names of 1-percenters who’d donated to the university was inspiring. After the march toured the campus, it hit College Avenue and poured into the streets. Though attendance at the 4 p.m. start of the rally had been sparse, enough people joined it in progress that by the time the group was ready to march, over 2,000 people were on hand to support a $15 per hour minimum wage and basic justice for working people.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Class War in San Diego?

Councilmember Gloria Attacks Business Community’s Use of Referenda to Reverse Progressive City Legislation


Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria

Out of all the issues facing San Diego — ensuring livable incomes and affordable housing, fixing the city’s infrastructure, restoring cuts in city services, expanding the Convention Center, keeping (or not keeping) the San Diego Chargers in town — City Councilmember Todd Gloria named “reforming the referendum” as the most important political concern when he spoke March 26 at the predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality in Hillcrest. He admitted that to most of his audiences, this is pretty much insider baseball — “mostly when I talk about this issue, the group is pretty uninitiated,” he said — but he stressed that the achievements of the hard-won Democratic City Council majority are at risk from Right-wing business interests who can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on referendum campaigns to get them reversed.
The referendum is the flip side of the coin from the initiative, which far more Californians are familiar with because it’s the source of the long lists of propositions that frequently clutter up the state’s ballots. The initiative allows citizens to write their own laws, overriding elected legislatures, if they can get enough signatures to put them on the ballot and get a majority of voters to cast ballots for them. The referendum allows voters to overturn a law already passed by a legislature. If the referendum organizers get enough signatures to put a law on the ballot, the legislature that passed the law in the first place has two options. Either they can repeal it themselves, or they can put it before voters — and if the voters choose to override their representatives’ decision, out it goes.
Along with the recall — the ability of voters to circulate a petition to get rid of a sitting elected official and have another election to replace them — the referendum and initiative were originally added to the California state constitution as part of Hiram Johnson’s reform movement in 1912. Back then, they were sold as ways for citizens to attack the power of well-financed special interests in general, and the Southern Pacific Railroad in particular, to control the political process through campaign contributions. But Gloria and other opponents of the referendum argue that this original purpose has been turned on its head; now, most of the referenda being pushed in San Diego and elsewhere in California are being pushed by big corporations and developers to reverse progressive legislation that might cost them money.
“It really reflects a lot of what Senator [Elizabeth] Warren and others are talking about,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “It’s really a separate set of rules for wealthy folks. We’ve seen that in the tax code and in various different things, but to see it in our democracy that if you cannot get the outcome you want through the normal legislative process, if you have a couple of hundred thousand dollars, you can purchase the result you’re looking for.”

A Tool for the 1 Percent

The transformation of the referendum and initiative from tools to control the 1 percent to strategies used by the 1 percent has been going on for decades, especially as getting measures on the ballot has itself become a major business — and a source of quick money for homeless and other economically marginalized people, who can circulate petitions and make from $2 to $12 for everyone they get to sign. But the current spate of corporate referenda in San Diego really began in November 2010, when a Democratic-majority City Council passed a law aimed at controlling the expansion of Walmart and other large big-box stores. Fearful that Walmart would crush local businesses and damage the city’s economy, the Council overrode Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders’ veto of a bill that would require an “economic impact review,” as well as an environmental impact review, before the Council could approve such stores.
Walmart reacted with both barrels blazing. According to Gloria, who wrote the economic-impact law, they spent up to $2 million to circulate a referendum to put it on the ballot. “At the time,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality, “the city’s ordinance said the election had to be called within 90 days” of the County Registrar of Voters’ certification that the referendum had enough valid signatures to qualify. With no regular city election scheduled for 2011, the cash-strapped city would have had to spend $3.4 million just to have an election on Walmart’s referendum. So Gloria joined seven other Councilmembers and voted to repeal his own ordinance because “there was no way I could justify spending that kind of money” on a special election, especially a low-turnout one in which Walmart could vastly outspend the ordinance’s supporters, appeal to more conservative voters and likely win anyway.
At the time, Walmart’s local opponents in the small-business community and organized labor were hopeful that their problems would be solved at the state level. Then-State Senator Juan Vargas, a former San Diego City Councilmember, pledged to introduce a bill that would impose the economic impact review requirement on big-box superstores statewide. He got it through both houses of the legislature, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it — and Walmart began building superstores all across California, including one in Sherman Heights that wiped out an historic farmers’ market and caused a number of small businesses in the neighborhood to close even before Walmart moved in, so sure were they that the giant chain would destroy them financially.
Walmart’s success in getting the city to back down from an ordinance that would have put the brakes on their expansion plans in San Diego led other businesses to copy the strategy. Jerry Sanders, the Republican mayor who had vetoed the economic-impact bill in the first place, was hired as president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce after he was termed out of the mayoralty, and under him the Chamber became aggressive at using referenda to impose their will on the city and thwart the efforts of a Democratic Council to hold businesses accountable.
In the face of referenda, the Council bailed on at least two other pieces of legislation, one to raise the fees developers are required to pay the city to fund affordable-housing programs and one to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. The latter backfired on the dispensaries, Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “It hurt patients,” he said, because the Council ultimately passed “a more restrictive ordinance” than the one the dispensaries had challenged by referendum.

Barrio Logan Loses Its Plan

But, according to Gloria, the issue that most vividly showed how the referendum has become a tool of “the wealthy versus those who are not” was the battle over the Barrio Logan Community Plan in 2014. “We spent millions of dollars and years updating the community plan for Barrio Logan,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality.”All of that just went up in smoke when you basically had three defense contractors decide that it wasn’t to their benefit. So they were able to purchase the result they weren’t able to get from the City Council. … They spent money and got signatures telling people a whole bunch of lies, like about how the Navy was going to leave San Diego.”
Gloria, who was serving as interim mayor at the time following the resignation of Bob Filner, brought the Secretary of the Navy to assure voters that the Navy wasn’t going to abandon San Diego if the Barrio Logan Community Plan was passed. Supporters of the plan went to court to stop the referendum organizers from having their signature gatherers lie to voters to get them to sign — and the judge ruled that they indeed had lied, but they had a constitutionally protected right to do so and so the referendum qualified for the ballot. In the June 2014 election, voters overwhelmingly rejected the Barrio Logan Community Plan on the basis of a six-figure TV ad campaign that repeated all the lies the referendum supporters had told to get the petition on the ballot.
“It really just comes down to money,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “If you have enough money, you can get this other result. People talk about ‘this is about the citizens having the right to petition the government,’ and I just say, ‘Baloney.’ If the roles were reversed, does anyone in this room seriously believe that the residents of Barrio Logan could marshal the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to overturn the City Council’s action? No, of course they couldn’t. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen time and time again.”
The next referendum campaign to get on the ballot in San Diego is to repeal the proposal Gloria pushed through the City Council when he was its president to raise San Diego’s minimum wage to $11.50 per hour. The original proposal was for a $15 per hour wage, but that got talked down first to $13.09 and then to $11.50 after owners of small businesses — real small businesses — convinced Gloria they couldn’t support $13.09 but would be O.K. with $11.50. This time, however, the plan ran afoul of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, which organized a political action committee called the “Small Business Coalition” to sponsor a petition drive to qualify a referendum to stop the minimum wage increase.
What the Councilmembers and public supporters of the minimum wage increase didn’t know until after the referendum qualified was that the so-called “Small Business Coalition” had only two bona fide small businesses among its members. “The rest were the big hotels, the National Restaurant Association, the National Franchisees’ Association,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “Big lobbying groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to delay the minimum wage. What I thought was really ironic was that we got reports that they were paying up to $12 a signature to defeat a $11.50 per hour minimum wage. I mean, this is insane. But they’re business folks, right? Ultimately they looked at it and made a business decision that it would cost them more actually to increase the minimum wage than to spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars to delay it.”
The not-so-small businesses in the “Small Business Coalition” have already delayed the minimum wage increase until June 2016, when it goes on the ballot, and it’s anybody’s guess whether San Diegans, faced with a major TV and direct-mail ad blitz and with a history of economic conservatism at the ballot box, will vote for it. Meanwhile, as veteran San Diego political reporter Matt Potter wrote in the April 1 Reader (, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce has quietly put the “Small Business Coalition” out of business now that it has served its purpose.

When Elephants Fight …

Meanwhile, San Diego is seeing another no-holds-barred referendum fight over a planned development in Carmel Valley called One Paseo that has the distinction of having big-money interests on both sides. The developer of One Paseo was a company called Kilroy Realty Corporation, and once their plan got through the City Council on a 7-2 vote (with Gloria one of the Councilmembers who voted for it), a supposedly grass-roots organization called “Protect San Diego’s Neighborhoods” arose to start a referendum petition to block its construction. Only it turned out that “Protect San Diego’s Neighborhoods” was largely funded by Donahue Schriber, a rival developer who owns a shopping center next to One Paseo and developable land nearby.
Schriber, worried that his land would be less valuable if One Paseo were built, launched a referendum drive and got current City Council President Sherri Lightner, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, and San Diego Community Planners Committee chair Joe LaCava to appear at the press conference announcing the campaign. Once the “Protect San Diego’s Neighborhoods” signature gatherers hit the streets, however, Kilroy fought back. They launched an advisory petition to support keeping the San Diego Chargers in town, allegedly to hire so many signature gatherers that the anti-One Paseo forces couldn’t find people to circulate their own petition. Kilroy also sent out 27,000 postcards to people who’d signed the anti-One Paseo petition asking them to take back their signatures.
The anti-One Paseo referendum is currently before the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, whose staff have the unenviable task of figuring out not only how many signatures are invalid for the normal reasons (like people not being registered to vote at all, or not being residents of the city of San Diego) but also how many people who signed the petition originally used Kilroy’s postcards to take their names off. This rare spectacle of seeing big-money interests on both sides of a referendum campaign recalls the ancient proverb, “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” It also puts the two most prominent Gay male elected officials in San Diego, Todd Gloria and Dave Roberts, on opposite sides.
Gloria’s proposals to reform the referendum process are modest, largely because most of the rules regarding referenda are set by the state constitution. “But there are two things we could do locally that I think would be really meaningful,” he told the Democrats for Equality. “Number one is with regard to disclosure. … As candidates for elective office, we have to disclose who’s contributing to our campaigns. Towards the ends of our campaigns those disclosures have to be on a 24-hour basis.” Gloria said “the same rule should prevail” for referendum campaigns, especially since they only have 30 days to collect the estimated 33,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.
“At least give the citizens the information,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “You can choose to sign it or not, but if you’re being told that this is being sponsored by small businesses when it’s really just Fortune 500 companies and big corporate CEO’s, maybe that would make a difference in the decision-making process of those who are asked in front of Trader Joe’s or Ralph’s to sign this.”
Another change Gloria would like to see in the referendum process is to allow the elected officials whose decisions are being challenged by referendum to be in the room at the Registrar of Voters’ offices when the signatures are being validated. “Currently, only the people who are proponents of a referendum can be in the room,” Gloria explained. “I’m not allowed to be in that room to say, ‘That signature does not match the voter record. I challenge that one.’ There’s no one there on the opponents’ side to represent that point of view. I don’t think that’s fair; I don’t think that’s right. We need to change that.”

SDG&E Encourages Climate Change

Gloria fielded audience questions on various other issues facing the city, from the huge gap between the need to fix its infrastructure and the money available — “at least $3 billion, probably more like $5 billion … far larger than the pension debt,” Gloria explained — to the prospects for a new Chargers stadium (the current proposal, he said, is for a $1.4 billion stadium of which the Chargers and the National Football League are committed to only $200 million each, leaving a $1 billion shortfall they’re expecting the public to pay), the status of the Balboa Park Centennial and the condition of the park’s rose garden.
But the issue that most engaged him besides the referendum was yet another case of a giant corporation trying to sabotage one of the progressive issues Gloria pushed through the City Council when he was its president. That was the city’s historic plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other sources of human-caused climate change. This time the culprit is San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), whose new proposal to restructure electric rates would actually penalize people for using less energy.
Currently, Gloria explained, “SDG&E has four different tiers of charges. The lower your tier, the less you pay. If you have your lights on all the time, you pay more; that’s tier 4. They’re arguing to collapse it into two tiers instead of four, and make it so there’s not as much differential between the two tiers.” What’s more, Gloria said, SDG&E also wants to impose a flat “base fee” of $5, later raised to $10 (“and if you believe it stays at $10 I’ve got some beautiful properties somewhere in Florida to sell you,” Gloria joked), on all customers, no matter how much they use.
“Pretty much everyone in my Council district will end up paying more,” Gloria said, “because we have smaller homes, we’re closer to the coastline, and most of our homes aren’t particularly air-conditioned.” He added that when he asked an SDG&E representative what the impact would be in his district, the SDG&E rep said “roughly 70 percent of my constituents in Old Town are in tier 1” — and therefore they’d be hit by the “base fee” and the higher rates from collapsing the tiers. What’s more, the SDG&E rep couldn’t or wouldn’t give him a straight answer when Gloria asked just what that arbitrary “base fee” was for.
SDG&E’s rate proposal now goes before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which is supposed to regulate utility rates but over the last two decades — especially since the appointment of former Southern California Edison (SCE) CEO Michael Peevey as its head — has acquired a reputation as a rubber-stamp for whatever utilities want to charge. The CPUC is currently in a state of flux as Peevey resigned following allegations that he received favors from utility executives.
Gloria tried to get the City Council to approve a resolution not only asking the CPUC to vote down SDG&E’s rate proposal but to ask SDG&E themselves to withdraw it. He had Council support for the resolution to the CPUC, but several Councilmembers balked at the idea of a government agency actually making a request to a private corporation to change a business decision. The Council passed the watered-down version 7-2, but Gloria and former Mayoral candidate David Alvarez voted against it because they didn’t think it went far enough.
“I don’t understand how this was substantive,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t ask SDG&E, our franchisee — we provide them a franchise to do this in our city — to ask them that. I didn’t see any harm in doing that, and I still do the head-scratcher as to why that happened.”