via Seeds of Change

Los Angeles’ economy is operating at an unsafe level for people and the planet.  A new report by the Economic Roundtable, Industry Greenhouse Gas and Wage Sustainability released on Mother’s Day in honor of Mother Earth, identifies the climate change effects as well as the wage sustainability of jobs in each industry.

Sustain LA 5-7-15

via Seeds of Change

A Black man brutalized by police officers. The incident touched a nerve in the city, lighting a powder keg of long-held disappointment of Black communities in city institutions purporting to serve the people. I’m not talking about Baltimore, which we’ve watched burn since the funeral of 25-year old Freddie Gray earlier this week. Twenty-three years ago, Los Angeles too exploded with outrage and indignation when four white police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.

We understood the 1992 uprisings as a manifestation of rage over economic deprivation and blighted hopes. At the time, Los Angeles County was in its second year of what proved to be its most severe recession since the Great Depression. The greatest concentration of the region’s low-income and Black residents then (and now) lived in South Los Angeles, where the scarcity of jobs and economic opportunities was acute. The unrest was followed by public commitments to ensuring that South Los Angeles workers would have equitable opportunities to provide a decent standard of living for their families.

map1

In our 2002 report South Los Angeles Rising, we reviewed how far those commitments had been kept for South Los Angeles (see Map 1). We found that only 19 percent of the buildings that were torched in South L.A. were operational by 1999. And, the jobs created by the businesses paid below average wages. In contrast, Central L.A. enjoyed a recovery of 42 percent of their buildings. Workers employed in Central L.A. earned above average wages.

Yesterday, Angel Jennings reported that a $100-million entertainment district on Vermont between 84th Street and Manchester broke ground. The developer, Sassony Properties, dubbed the future site Vermont Entertainment Village and promises to open in late 2016 with a new supermarket, pharmacy, and a host of other stores to a neighborhood still struggling with a deficit of retail options. [Strangely, promotional photos of the center feature only white people.]  The site, once a swap meet for the neighborhood, was the first to burn down on the block in 1992. For twenty-three years, an empty lot has stood in its place, a visible reminder that commitments had not been kept.

Earlier this week, Steve Lopez wrote about the parallels between Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived, and South Los Angeles. “[We] have Third World conditions here in the land of riches. It’s there in Baltimore, a short drive from the national halls of power. And it’s here in Los Angeles, the national capital of cardboard villages and mansions the size of coliseums.”

Let’s hope that the Vermont development is a sign of South Los Angeles rising, the city keeping its commitment to our Black communities.

via Seeds of Change

Restaurants want an exemption from a minimum wage increase for workers receiving tips, reported Emily Alpert Reyes for the LA Times. Their reasoning is that workers who earn tips already make above the proposed $13.25 and $15.25 an hour. “We treat our workers like family,” one restaurant owner, who declined to be named, told me at the minimum wage public hearing in Watts. “Our workers make more than $15 an hour, they make $19 or even more, both front and back of the house.” He pointed to the sticker on his shirt, “Make Tips Count.”

But, evidence tips us towards a different story. We know that restaurant workers are more likely to live in poverty than the general working population. In our report Los Angeles Rising, we calculated that a quarter lives below the poverty line. This is based on wages that includes tipped income. As a result, families get by with the help of public programs. About 15 percent of employees working in restaurants and bars rely on food stamps and subsidized health insurance (Medi-Cal) to survive. A recent report released by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United calculated the national cost to taxpayers of over $9 billion a year.

The poverty wages earned by those employed in eating and drinking places is exacerbated by wage theft, when employers don’t abide by wage and hour standards. Wage theft can take many forms; from workers not paid for cleaning up at the end of a shift to not receiving meal or rest breaks. The restaurant industry is rife with wage theft. The Department of Labor conducted investigations of 1,800 restaurants in the west coast and found 72 percent guilty of wage theft. In Los Angeles, approximately one out of every five restaurant workers is a victim of unpaid wages.

A $15.25 minimum wage with strong enforcement provisions for the 113,776 restaurant workers in Los Angeles can tip the scales towards a more sustainable city. We estimate that a raise in the minimum wage to $15.25 would affect 71 percent of restaurant workers in the city. Not only would families supported by a restaurant employee have more money to spend on basic needs, we taxpayers would not absorb the costs of the industry’s poverty-level wages. Across the economy, a raise would save our city an annual $314 million in public assistance payments, a cumulative benefit of $941 million if phased-in over five years (see Table 1).

Table 1: Estimated Savings in Public Assistance Programs

To us, saving $941 million for taxpayers is the tipping point to include restaurant workers in a $15.25 raise.

via Seeds of Change

Los Angeles is considering a raise of the citywide minimum wage.

Economic Roundtable recently coauthored at report Los Angeles Rising: A City That Works for Everyone with the UCLA Labor Center and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment which looked at the consequences, both intended and unintended, of such a lift. We found that a phased-in increase to $15.25 by 2019 will put $5.9 billion more into the pockets of 723,000 working people, which will generate $6.4 billion in increased sales. That means that every dollar increase in the minimum wage generates $1.12 in economic stimulus. Businesses will hire more in response to the greater demand, creating 46,400 new jobs.

Why is a $15.25 raise such an economic boost for the local economy?

The answer, we found, lies in the household spending patterns of families who earn minimum wages. Families who earn less than $40,000 a year typically spend their earnings as soon as they are paid on basic needs. On average, a U.S. household that earns $34,000 spends about $36,000 on living expenses (see figure below). The wages earned by low- and moderate-income workers, therefore, go quickly back into circulation after pay day. The direct beneficiaries are place-based businesses, that cater to households within the immediate geographic vicinity. This includes real estate, health care, restaurants, and retail stores. These local businesses will reap increased sales, which allows them to grow and expand the economy.

In contrast, high-income households who bring home $70,000 or more a year, which includes most shareholders of corporations that employ minimum wage workers, set aside almost a quarter of their earnings, an average of $25,630 a year, in savings. Most of this money is placed into investments that are far removed from Los Angeles.

Therefore, a raise to $15.25 by 2019 is an investment in Los Angeles. Minimum wage workers will spend increased earnings of $5.9 billion in the local economy that will help the city grow.

Source: Figure 3.1 Expenditures of Low, Moderate, and Upper Income Households, U.S., 2013 in Los Angeles Rising.

via Labor Notes

There’s a hidden underside to Santa Monica, California’s idyllic exterior.

Santa Monica is a beautiful beachfront city: breezes from the Pacific Ocean, a year-round Mediterranean climate, 3.5 miles of beaches. Seven million visitors a year flock here—generating $1.63 billion.

But the workers who maintain the city are hired on an as-needed basis, earning poverty-level wages, lacking benefits and the ability to form a union.

I am one of them. I’ve been employed as a temporary employee in beach bathroom maintenance for four years. I struggle to earn a living and hold an extra job so I can earn enough money to survive.

The recession hurt many families in Los Angeles, including mine. My mother moved in with me when my family’s house was lost to a foreclosure. She had nowhere else to go, so I found a home big enough for all of us.

As the eldest child in my family, I support my mother and two younger siblings, but I can barely afford to pay the bills from the $2,000 monthly income I earn. Rent and utilities are $2,200 a month, groceries another $600-700.

A COLOR LINE

Though we do the same work, my coworkers and I earn half of what workers with permanent status earn. There are 10 of us temporary workers, called “labor trainees” although we’ve never received formal training from the city.

Some of us have been in this state of limbo for almost 30 years and were never offered a permanent job. We’ve also taken the civil service exam and passed, but this still didn’t result in a permanent job offer either.

A color line divides the temporary from the permanent workers in Santa Monica. All of us temps are people of color—five of us are Latino and five Black. Our counterparts who are classified as permanent employees of the city, enjoying health insurance and pension benefits, are mostly white.

The problem isn’t only concentrated in the Santa Monica beach, of course. There’s a whole new “permatemp” section of the economy, including workers like us who have been made into “as-needed” casual workers while still being directly hired, and workers who are outsourced to staffing agencies.

According to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project and the National Staffing Workers Alliance, the number of workers in that second category of outsourced workers “has reached an all-time high”: “2.8 million Americans are currently employed in temporary help services, which constitute the majority of staffing industry jobs.”

For employers these are strategies to dodge unions, benefits, and labor laws. The National Labor Relations Board has gone back and forth over the years on whether temporary employees or contracted workers can form a bargaining unit. (Most of this is fought out in court cases. To read more, check out the Seattle-based Center for a Changing Workforce.)

And it’s not just private-sector employers anymore.

PERMATEMP ECONOMY

The public sector used to be a conduit to middle-class, union jobs for many Black and brown people. But state and local governments are increasing employment of permatemps like me.

The use of temporary workers has increased since the recession, as city budgets have been slashed. “Public-sector agencies are increasingly trying to minimize their obligations to workers by staffing through temp agencies—even for long-term jobs—and outsourcing to private contractors,” said Chris Tilly, Director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

We have a chance to stop the growing problem of the permatemp economy here in Santa Monica. If we don’t, I’m afraid that the city will take the next step and start outsourcing more jobs to third-party contractors.

To bring fairness to its beaches, Santa Monica needs to make all of us permanent workers. If we had permanent status, I might be able to support my family on one job—rather than juggling two and working 80 hours a week.

My co-workers would be able to get proper medical care instead of having to come in to work sick or with dangerous infections. We might feel more like dignified workers instead of expendable labor.

CITY HEARING ON TUESDAY

Last year my co-workers and I joined the Industrial Workers of the World and began organizing for change.

Now we are close to making that first step. This Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council will discuss the status of its permatemp workers. We invite everyone to come join us and support our demands for dignity and justice at work.

Please take a moment to share your feelings about ending the permatemp economy with the Santa Monica City Council by signing our petition. We can build a movement to stop the permatemp economy before it swallows us all.

Shyolanda Montana is employed as an as-needed labor trainee for the city of Santa Monica since May 2011. She wrote this article with the support of Yvonne Yen Liu and Morgan Presta (a pseudonym), both members of Los Angeles Industrial Workers of the World.