We all have the right to not just a job, but a good job that allows us to afford housing, have good healthcare, and raise our families with dignity. The Bay Area economy is booming, yet low wages, precarious scheduling and work conditions, and barriers to good jobs mean many people still live in poverty. More and more companies cheat their way out of labor protections by hiring workers on a temporary, contingent basis, or as “subcontractors.” CEOs’ decisions, by prioritizing profit over people, often lock people of color out of stable employment — especially Black folks affected by mass incarceration and immigrants living in fear of deportation. Bay Rising stands for work with dignity, including good wages, health benefits, and safety and respect on the job. These objectives also require a serious, substantial, and vigilant commitment of local and state government to catch and address labor violations, and more resources to enforce the institutional labor protections that generations of organizers and activists have fought for and won.
Orange denotes Bay Rising member organizations. Green denotes partner organizations. Click on the circles to visit each organization’s website.
Forge Partnerships Between Labor Standards Enforcement Agencies and Community Groups
The San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) was established in 2000-2001 as the first municipal labor standards enforcement agency in the country, as a result of decades of struggle by organized labor. Initially responsible for prevailing wage enforcement, OLSE has since expanded to include enforcement authority for over 25 laws. The OLSE proposes regulations, sends out notifications to employers about changes in the laws, investigates worker complaints, and conducts audits of city contractors. The city also contracts with a group of local community-based organizations to educate workers about their rights under the laws. This includes Bay Rising member organizations working in the Chinese and Latino communities, where language can be a barrier to enforcement. San Francisco has been at the forefront of passing innovative legislation to better protect workers, including four ordinances that were a first for any American municipality: the minimum wage, paid sick leave, formula retail, and paid parental leave ordinances. Other cities look to San Francisco as a model for labor standards enforcement. Unfortunately, local enforcement and implementation of labor standards isn’t always consistent everywhere, and so continued pressure and resources are critical to ensure that vulnerable worker populations including immigrants, women, trans and queer people, and people of color get the protection that they deserve and are legally entitled to.
COVID laid bare the ravages of capitalism, showing the public that the ones who keep our society moving are low-wage working people. Working people identified as “essential” during COVID, however, did not necessarily receive the support they needed in terms of pay, health services, and protection, and as a result have faced additional burdens during the pandemic. Movement organizers mobilized to ensure that workers who have always labored to keep our world afloat received compensation and protection – an effort which will continue beyond the pandemic era.
The minimum wage was established to support a baseline expectation – that any working person should be able to afford a decent life. As inequality has accelerated, and living conditions have deteriorated for many, we now pursue a higher standard. However, political changes of the past five decades including the evisceration of organized labor and the right to unionize have led to wage increases that are sparse and geographically narrow. People deserve a living wage, a thriving wage, and institutional mechanisms which prevent wage stagnation during extended periods of economic growth. Fighting for a minimum wage increase is about securing a tangible local victory in the short term that pressures higher levels of government to do better by the broad swaths of working people nationwide who work hard and hardly get a fair return on their work.
Many people working for lower wages and part-time are vulnerable to the whims of their bosses and poor working conditions. For example, people working in hotels are at higher risk of sexual assault when cleaning rooms on their own – so Oakland community organizations and unions rallied to get emergency alert buttons and more protections in every room. Part-time workers are also at the mercy of their bosses when it comes to inconsistent schedules that make planning childcare or a second job impossible. Bosses also tend towards hiring more and more part-time workers in order to avoid paying for their healthcare and other benefits – so people organized against these practices and won. Lastly, gig workers – who represent an increasingly large sector of the workforce as companies like Uber and Lyft have taken off – deserve more rights and benefits, so organizers in San José put together the Gig Workers Rising campaign to support their fight.
Several Bay Rising member organizations joined together to create the Bay Area Essential Workers Agenda, a coalition of seven worker centers representing immigrant working people and working people of color in the Bay Area. They surveyed over 1400 people working to make ends meet – earning less than $25 per hour – to find out how they have been impacted by the pandemic, and what they want in a good job. Survey respondents worked in restaurants, in-home patient care, house cleaning, janitorial work, construction, retail and more. Three-quarters of those surveyed lost work, two-thirds could not access Unemployment Insurance, more than half could not access Paid Sick Leave, and more than a quarter said they would not report a violation by their employer. These results define the Bay Area Essential Workers Agenda’s four-point platform for a true economic recovery.