By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Ted Soqui
JAN BREIDENBACH, executive director, Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing; serves on PLAN's housing task force
JOHN M. GRANT, vice-president and in-house counsel, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 (the union of L.A.'s supermarket and packing house workers); on PLAN's worker-rights task force
ANA GUERRERO, community organizing specialist at the Center for Community Change; PLAN senior adviser
MADELINE JANIS-APARICIO, executive director, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (the living-wage coalition); on PLAN's economic-justice task force
JERILYN LIPEZ MENDOZA, staff attorney for the Los Angeles Environmental Justice Project Office of Environmental Defense; on PLAN's land-use and transportation task force
REVEREND ALTAGRACIA PÉREZ, pastor at the Episcopal Church of St. Philip the Evangelist; leader of Coalition L.A.; on PLAN's democracy-and-participation task force
L.A.WEEKLY:One of the exciting things about L.A. is that in several areas, the city is pushing the envelope as to what a city can do, in areas where the state and federal governments have refused to act. There have been real innovations in a range of economic-justice issues, and in worker rights, which have become a kind of centerpiece of progressive organizing in L.A. Where do we go from here. What more can or should the city do?
MADELINE JANIS-APARICIO: The city is increasingly involved in economic development -- putting together pots of money from different governmental sources and handing them over to big companies in order to build things. The theory was that this was stimulating the economy, but there have been no criteria for the kind of jobs, and city, this was creating. The city also owns a lot of things -- the airport, the zoo, the convention center, and the city contracts with lots and lots of companies on those sites. And so city government can become a catalyst for the development of a whole range of new protections for workers. In return for the city providing money to the companies that build and service these projects, the workers should receive a living wage and health benefits. L.A. is giving $20 million to a major developer in North Hollywood to create 5,000 jobs, for instance. We're saying the city should insist they be living-wage jobs and create a hiring program where the people in the local community get first crack at those jobs. Let's provide training. Let's provide child care for workers in that project. Let's have a vision for what economic development can be, using the leverage of our dollars. And if we start looking at it that way, then the city can actually have a pretty large impact on the lives of many people.
L.A. is clearly the American capital of medical un-insurance. Part of the living-wage concept is the notion that the employer, in return for getting the city contract, should provide health benefits, or a higher off-setting wage if not. What can the city do to help those employers offer health benefits?
JANIS-APARICIO: We've been pushing the city to establish some sort of health trust or purchasing pool, at a good rate and with no administrative costs, for participating businesses, and one of the major developers that committed to a living wage, Trizec/Hahn, actually committed a sum of money to start this up. But it's taken two or three years, and there hasn't been a lot of leadership from the city to move this forward. With some real leadership from the Mayor's Office and the council, we could be doing some incredibly innovative things, like getting health care to families and to probably 10-, 15-, 20-thousand future families, and model it for a larger number of employers and workers.
PETER DREIER:Another extension of the living wage is into the city's purchasing power. Where does the LAUSD purchase its football uniforms? Just as the state uses its buying power to require clean diesel and clean cars, we could set standards for workplace conditions in the businesses where the city, the airport, the schools are major buyers. The mayor, the school board and City Council, basically, can govern that. ã
JOHN M. GRANT: We set environmental-impact standards on construction projects, and what we're talking about now is an equity impact -- what are the wages and working conditions and benefits that that employer will create? Until now, that's not even been looked at.
John, is there something the city can do more particularly about workers' rights?
GRANT: In New York, Jobs with Justice, a coalition of activist groups, has set up a commission to publicize where, and by whom, workers' rights have been violated in the city. It promotes an understanding that a violation of union rights is a violation of civil rights. Today, in a race- or sex-discrimination case, an employer may say, "It didn't happen," but he won't defend himself by saying, "I did it." But there's no problem with an employer saying, "Yeah, I violated a worker's right to organize. What are you going to do about it?" A commission can at least dramatize that violations of workers' rights are just as serious as the violation of any other civil rights.