A year ago, we knew Southern California workers’ backs were against the wall and our union would face some of the toughest fights in our history. At our member summit last November, we decided going it alone with old tactics wouldn’t work. Instead, we focused on building alliances with other unions, community groups, and clergy.
It’s no surprise a lot of public workers dread budget time. Hiding behind jargon and buried under euphemisms like “budget optimization,” “realignment,” and “paradigm shift” is the same old story: politicians and managers want frontline public workers to do more with less. They want them to help the most vulnerable in our communities and they want them to do it with smaller budgets, fewer workers, bigger caseloads and heavier workloads.
After years of hard work, Los Angeles workers finally got the raise they deserved and I’m proud that our union played a lead role in delivering it. Thanks in large part to the efforts of SEIU 721 members and staff and a broad coalition of community groups, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 on June 10th to raise the City’s minimum wage in phases from the current $9 an hour to $15 an hour by the year 2020.
Earlier this month, SEIU 721 members racked up some key wins in a host of Southern California races, winning in 15 of the 19 contests where we made endorsements. So why does this matter to our members? Just like with external organizing, activism in politics can have a direct impact on workers’ jobs, wages, benefits and working conditions. This is doubly true with public employees.
In 2014, many pundits wrote the obituary of the working family. In the national media, they pronounced public workers dead — the victims of countless attacks at the ballot and in the courts, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, Wall Street and anti-worker lobbying groups. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.