Anti-Worker Interests Trying to Use the Federal Government to Attack California Workers

Robbie ColumnAugust 2013 - I've written in this space in the past about the widening differences between California and other states where business and the Republican Party have taken complete control. How we are moving forward when other states are moving backward. How we are putting Californians to work by using project labor agreements to efficiently build public works projects as other states ban them. How we are expanding the payment of prevailing wage as others eliminate it.  How we are about to build a great modern high speed rail system as other states refuse federal funding to do the same. How we protect our environment and the health and safety of our workers, while other, more conservative states undo their regulations.

Well, it turns out, big business and the far right extremists who, if they had their way, would have us, California workers, all work for less than minimum wage, are not happy about how things are going in California. But Californians seem pleased with the pro working family policies that the leaders we have elected have adopted, so their candidates are becoming increasingly unelectable in our state.

But greedy business and anti-worker special interest groups in other states are not content to let Californians choose their own course. So they have launched a ploy to use the federal government to undo our achievements here.

As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, California has a reputation for having some of the nation’s most comprehensive standards on workplace safety, consumer protection and environmental quality – regulations that force companies to make adjustments to the way they do business worldwide. Now some of those companies, banking on congressional gridlock and sympathetic Republican leaders in the House, are fighting back. And officials in Sacramento worry that some of the state’s landmark laws may be in danger.

They are starting with a bill to prohibit states from restricting the use of toxic chemicals to a greater degree than federal regulations provide. Most states don’t, but California does, so the bill’s primary effect would be to roll back California’s protections.

The Times goes on to report that the bill’s language appears to have such broad sweep, it could invalidate many other state laws as well. California Attorney General Kamala Harris says it could imperil our Proposition 65, which requires that workers and consumers be warned of possible exposure to cancer-causing materials, and our efforts to control greenhouse gases. She described this bill as “a no-win that puts Californians at risk from toxic chemicals and inhibits the development of safer, cleaner products.”

It doesn’t end with just this one measure. Recently, House Republicans amended a transportation bill to shift final authority over California’s High Speed Rail line from state officials to Congress, where many Republicans still hope to kill the project.  Largely due to the tenacious, united support of California Building Trades’ workers over a period of several years, High Speed Rail has overcome all obstacles and opposition within the state and is on the verge of being built under a project labor agreement with the Building Trades. So opponents are now resorting to the heavy hand of the federal government as a last attempt to destroy it.

In explanation of the need for high speed rail, I would like to state these facts. Our airports are in gridlock, planes take off and land a mile apart. One lightning storm can cause a chain reaction that cancels flights for half the nation, causing a backlog to the system that can last for days. Our freeways are often in gridlock. We are in desperate need of a third mode of interstate mass transportation. And high speed rail for this vast nation is absolutely necessary and in the national interest. Someone needs to step up, and California is doing it.  Every modern nation on the face of the earth already has high speed rail because it works, it’s efficient, and it serves the needs of everyday working people. And that is us. Why would Republicans be against this?

Ironically, Republicans have often claimed to be the party of “states’ rights” when they are opposing federal efforts to further the best interests of workers and consumers. But not when states like California put working people ahead of ultra-wealthy big business interests and their minimum standards that preach even minimum wage is too much.

The Times explains that Republicans have taken up the argument that they need to curb such trailblazing to protect the rights of other states, particularly deep-red ones that don’t want their industries faced with either following California’s rules or being cut off from the country’s biggest market.

For them instead of raising the bar, it looks the same, tired old race to the bottom, but with a new, insidious scheme to undermine California’s progress.  Will we let them get away with it? Hell, no! If they want a fight, we are the Building Trades, we are working people, we are organized, we will meet them at the ballot box, and we will fight them and win.

Thank you to the members of every trade across California. It is your hard work and understanding of who you are that keeps California politicians acting in the best interests of working families.

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