By Angel Gutierrez
As the president of a vocational college, I interact with many people who are working hard for their dreams. Recent high school graduates, single moms, even grandparents – all working to get an education so they can achieve better employment opportunities and take care of themselves and their families.
Right now, many students in our state, like many people across California, are currently working in low-paying jobs just to scrape out a living. Oftentimes, workers like these have little voice or recognition in our government – and unfortunately, many policies coming out of Sacramento are only further limiting the voices of the hard-working people of our state.
Instead of supporting policies that champion the working class, far too many lawmakers are actively disregarding the needs of the working people of our state.
A good example of this can be seen in the historic 6-year legal fight between thousands of Latino immigrant farm workers and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. In that case, farm workers voted by a margin of 1,098 to 197 in favor of ousting the UFW back in 2013. The workers were appalled that the UFW had abandoned them for decades and refused to do their representative job in collective bargaining.
Rather than supporting these workers, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) impounded the votes, causing the workers to mount the largest farm worker protest in California history. Thankfully, the courts forced the ALRB to count the votes and certify the election, and the farm workers’ wishes were upheld.
Following this event, three bills (AB 3092, AB 3093, and AB 3094) were introduced in the Standing Committee on Labor and Employment that would have prevented such an egregious violation of farm workers’ rights from happening again.
However, unfortunately, those bills were killed in committee under the leadership of chairman Tony Thurmond. To make matters worse, the same committee passed AB 2751, authored by Assemblymember Marc Stone, that forces farmworkers into non-negotiated contracts they did not choose or want. This, despite the fact that Stone claimed otherwise when this issue was being debated in Sacramento.
What’s astounding about AB 2751 is it gives even more authority to the same ALRB, which violated workers’ rights to choose their own representation. It’s not unlike a 2014 bill from then-Senate President Darrell Steinberg, SB 25, which would have forced workers to accept contracts that lower their take-home pay. Thankfully, that bill was vetoed, but one of its supporters, Isadore Hall, now sits on the ALRB, and can potentially make more troubling decisions for workers across our state.
There is no question that the actions by these and other lawmakers were unhelpful to working-class Californians. Unfortunately, many disastrous labor policies are still on the books today.
In addition to hindering the rights of the working people of California, far too many of our state policies are making it increasingly more difficult to afford to live in our great state. In fact, 43% of voters in California claim they cannot afford to live in California, and many middle-class residents are considering leaving the state.
Aside from major expenses, such as the skyrocketing cost of housing, exacerbating the problem is California’s high regressive taxes, such as those on sales and gasoline. Lower-income workers pay a disproportionately higher amount of their income on regressive taxes – hurting their ability to support themselves in expensive areas across the state.
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the lowest income bracket in California pays over 7% of their total income on sales and excise taxes alone, whereas top earners pay only .8%.
Yet lawmakers seem to be making little effort to ease the tax burden on anyone in California, especially those at the bottom of the income scale.
California is a state filled with hardworking and amazing people. However, many state policies are placing unnecessary burdens on citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet. State lawmakers must take greater measures to support members of the working class.
Angel Gutierrez is President/CEO of Crescent College.