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.
In 2014, SEIU 721 members secured some stunning victories, ratifying good new contracts in L.A. County, beating back pension take-aways in Ventura, launching ground-breaking community partnerships, like Fix L.A., and leading the way on big fights, like the Fight for $15, across the region. But I’m not going to sugar-coat it, 2015 is going to be tough. Here are the four pillars of a winning strategy put together by 721’s members.
Watching bargaining with the City of L.A. earlier this month, I felt like I was trapped in a Charles Dickens novel. That’s because Los Angeles is becoming a Tale of Two Cities. In the first, workers sacrifice to help the city thrive and wind up being punished for it. In the second, the big banks that broke the economy and top City of L.A. executives get rewarded. In the first L.A., city workers stepped up and helped bail out the city in the wake of the 2007 Wall Street crash, losing 5,000 positions.
Earlier this month, 721 members gathered high up in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains for a day-long summit on the future of our work in L.A. County. From the vantage point of the Mount St. Mary’s campus, L.A. looks completely different. It’s a good reminder that, when it seems like we face insurmountable problems, we need to shift our perspective to find a way to win.
721 members who’ve participated in Sacramento lobby days know that it’s hot, stressful and often tedious work. But it’s all worth it if, after all the running between offices in the sweltering Sacramento sun, the marathon committee hearings, the rushed meetings with harried legislators and the line-by-line review of bills, you score victories like 721 members just achieved for county eligibility workers and children’s social workers.