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Jobs

The Fire Last Time

Worker Safety Laws After the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

A century ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant girls in their teens and twenties, perished after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Even after the fire, the city’s businesses continued to insist they could regulate themselves, but the deaths clearly demonstrated that companies like Triangle, if left to their own devices, would not concern themselves with their workers’ safety. Despite this business opposition, the public’s response to the fire and to the 146 deaths led to landmark state regulations.

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The San Francisco PUC: Working for the Community

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) provides water, sewage services, and municipal power to San Francisco and surrounding areas. It is also a huge job generator. When I joined the Commission in 2008, I identified three priorities: (i) achieving stronger local hire outcomes; (ii) adopting an environmental justice policy; and (iii) creating an agency-wide Community Benefits Program.

In 2002—following a bond measure approved by San Francisco voters that November—the SFPUC embarked on one of the largest water infrastructure projects at a cost of $4.6 billion dollars. The Water System Improvement Project (WSIP), which includes more than 80 projects, is working to repair, replace, and seismically upgrade deteriorating pipelines, tunnels, reservoirs, pump stations, storage tanks, and dams from San Francisco to the Central Valley by the end of 2015.

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Right Wing Ballot Strategies Hit Cities


San Diego has become ground zero for the newly energized right wing attack on progressive policies. Right wing politicians and far right industry associations mounted several anti-union ballot measures this year and have pledged to continue the fight in the 2012 elections. Their goal is to make San Diego the first city in the country to repeal a Living Wage Ordinance and outlaw Project Labor Agreements (PLA), as well as effective local hire programs.

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Wanted: Community Jobs Policy For San Francisco

A POWER demonstration in Bayview-Hunter’s Point. Courtesy of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER).For decades, San Francisco has had a goal of using a workforce that is at least 50 percent local resident on its publicly-funded construction projects. But the city has always relied on the “good faith efforts” of contractors to deliver on this objective. Now, a report released in August of this year by Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Brightline Defense Project (“The Failure of Good Faith: Local Hiring Policy Analysis and Recommendations for San Francisco”) shows that the good faith approach has not worked.[1]  In fact, based on a survey of 5.3 million job hours, the report confirms something that community advocates have known anecdotally for years.

For the seven years since 2003, the average local hire figures on city-funded construction is less than 25 percent and actually dipped below 20 percent for 2009. Clearly, say community leaders and job advocates, it is time for San Francisco to come up with a Community Jobs Policy.

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Structural Racism and Leadership

The election of our first African American president has sparked debate over how far we have come as a nation on issues of race. Some suggest that we are in a post-racial society, but this assumption has not been supported by recent census statistics. While one in seven people in the U.S. are now living in poverty,[1] statistics show that African Americans and Latinos have fared worse during the recession.

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and chief executive officer of PolicyLink points out, if you look deeper at the data, the story of who has actually been “hit hardest” is clear:

  • More than one in four Blacks and Hispanics live below the poverty line.
  • Hispanics saw the biggest jump in poverty (2.1 percent).
  • Biggest drop in real income was among Blacks and non-citizens (4.4 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively).[2]

This discussion naturally raises questions about the role of leadership development programs to address the racial divide in this country. Many such programs in the nonprofit sector have extended their reach and recruited more people of color, but more could be done. A deliberate approach to diversifying leadership programs would do much to mitigate the history of exclusion that has kept people of color underrepresented in leadership positions in the public and private sectors and also help level the playing field by providing them with new skills and resources and access to influential networks.

Federal Raids Against Immigrants on the Rise

By David Bacon

While the criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country. The number of workplace raids carried out by the Obama administration is staggering. Tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of workers have been fired for not having papers. According to public records obtained by Syracuse University, the latest available data from the Justice Department show that criminal immigration enforcement by the two largest investigative agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has increased to levels comparable to the highest seen during the Bush Administration.[1]

In a recent action the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pressured one of San Francisco’s major building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their jobs in the near future.

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