Assembly Labor Committee Chairman Tony Thurmond Meets with San Mateo County Union Members
Julie Lind Rupp, San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer, and Assembly Member Tony Thurmond, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.
The San Mateo County Central Labor Council hosted a meeting with State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, the recently appointed Chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.
Julie Lind Rupp, San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer, said the East Bay Assemblymember had asked to meet with SMCLC delegates to get a better understanding of regional labor issues and challenges union members in San Mateo County face that can be addressed legislatively.
The October 17 meeting gave union members the opportunity to meet and share their concerns.
Thurmond was elected to Assembly District 15, which includes parts of Oakland and Berkeley, in 2014.
Thurmond said the most recent legislative session had been a good one, with the passage of bills to increase the minimum wage, and to extend overtime standards to farm workers through AB 1066, which he co-authored. Thurmond said there would be challenges ahead to fight business interests who label bills that increase wages or worker protections as “job killers.” He said one of his priorities this year is to help elect more progressive, pro-labor Democrats to the state legislature.
Housing Affordability Crisis
Much of the discussion concerned housing affordability. Assemblymember Thurmond said he supported increasing state funding for affordable housing development, but not at the expense of prevailing wage jobs and the environmental review process. He said he opposed Governor Brown’s recent plan to streamline affordable housing construction that would have allowed developers to build “by-right”—essentially enabling non-union developers and contractors to bypass prevailing wage laws and provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act. “By-right would not be good for California; there is no prevailing wage,” he said. “Let’s not build at the expense of working people. I believe we should spend the people’s money on the people.”
Thurmond said he worked closely with the State Building Trades Council and went back to the Governor with prevailing wage language for the affordable housing construction funding, but negotiations have stalled. He said the conversation in the state legislature would shift next year to transportation funding. “There is not a lot of excitement for by-right,” he said.
Rich Hedges of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 said UFCW members make good wages but still struggle to be able to afford housing. He asked if Thurmond supported
Assemblymember Kevin Mullin’s bill to enable cities to build more inclusionary affordable housing. Thurmond said he supported the bill, which received 37 votes—not enough to pass the Assembly. “That’s why I want to see more progressive candidates elected, to get to 41 votes,” he said. Thurmond said he was working on a plan to get more revenue for affordable housing through a tax on real estate sales. “It’s a chance to get some permanent funding for affordable housing that is supported by business and labor,” Thurmond said.
Dave Mauro, IBEW Local 617 Business Manager, commented that housing affordability is a statewide problem. Thurmond said the state has fallen behind on building new housing to keep up with population growth, and the Governor’s proposals would make it easier for developers but, “I don’t like the idea of trickle-down for affordable housing.” Thurmond said he has a bill with Assemblymember David Chiu to fund workforce housing construction, “that has PLA language built into the bill.”
Thurmond said he was also looking at funding workforce housing construction through a state tax credit because the federal government doesn’t fund middle income housing. Thurmond said one way to ensure there is funding for housing development and other public services is to revise Prop. 13 so that commercial property taxes could be raised. “A split roll tax would balance the budget,” he said. “Senator Loni Hancock tried to tweak Prop 13 but the bill never got out of the committee.” He said the business community puts so much pressure on legislators, that most are afraid to even bring up the topic of reforming Prop 13.
Joel Abelson of Daly City Fire Fighters told Thurmond that the Public Employee Review Board process was a problem for public sector workers. Thurmond commented that, “Most of the systems in place to protect public sector employees are under attack, mostly by the Chamber of Commerce trying to strip away labor rights.” He said Democrats have been able to block bad bills at the committee level, such as a bill that would have allowed contractors to deduct money from construction workers’ paychecks to fund anti-labor propaganda. He said the Assembly fell two votes short of passing a bill to end forced arbitration. “Mandatory arbitration limits your right to sue or seek a legal remedy by forcing you to sign away your rights and agree to mandatory arbitration,” he said.
SMCLC Community Services Director Rayna Lehman said union apprenticeship programs have been successful and are recognized as important programs to lead to careers in construction. She said there is a need for pre-apprenticeship programs, but no guaranteed funding stream to keep them going. “Apprenticeships are embedded in workforce development now,” she said. “Pre-apprenticeship programs should be recognized also as an on-ramp to apprenticeships and the road to a career.“ Thurmond said connecting apprenticeship programs and pre-apprenticeships was a good model. He said it was important to train local workers, and to stop out-of-state contractors from bringing in low paid and less skilled workers.
Ken Peacock of Carpenters Local 217 said another area where the state needs to step up is in enforcement of labor laws and regulations. He said unions take the lead in fighting for labor law enforcement in the construction industry and the underground economy that hurts good union contractors. “We need to clean up what we already have,” he said. “Criminal penalties and fines for cheating contractors would make enforcement sustainable—it would pay for itself.” Tony Tofani of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 said unscrupulous contractors can also falsify certified payroll reports and under-report what they pay while paying some workers under the table. “Business Reps can’t monitor every job site,” he said.
Trish Suzuki Blinstrub of Teamsters Local 856 said AirBnB is hurting the hotel industry, undercutting wages and standards. She said some renters have been evicted so landlords can turn their rental units into illegal hotels. Thurmond said efforts to regulate AirBnB and stop the abuses died in committee in the State Assembly.
Daly City Fire Fighters’ representative Joel Abelson said injured workers are not getting the medical care they need in the Workers Comp system that limits a worker’s choice of doctors. Thurmond said,
“I support benefits for workers who take risks, and do hard jobs. They should get appropriate benefits and care.”
Thurmond thanked the union members for the opportunity to listen and learn about their issues and concerns.
- Paul Burton