Issues

Supreme Court to Decide Critical Union Case

In less than two weeks, the Supreme Court will rule on a case that is hugely critical for public sector unions, and government itself. The following article (excerpt, May 2017) by Naomi Walker of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees explains the ramifications of Janus v. AFSCME.

The Entire Public Sector Is About to Be Put on Trial

The Right’s assault on public-sector workers is an assault on the public sector itself.

Within the next year, the Supreme Court is likely to rule on the latest existential threat to workers and their unions: Janus v. AFSCME. Like last year’s Friedrichs v. CTA—a bullet dodged with Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death—the Janus case is a blatant attack on working people by right-wing, moneyed special interests who want to take away workers’ freedom to come together and negotiate for a better life.

For years, the Right has been hammering through state-level “right-to-work” laws in an effort to kill public sector unionism; it would see victory in the Janus case as the coup de grace.

Right-to-work laws allow union “free riders,” or workers who refuse to pay union dues but still enjoy the wages, benefits and protections the union negotiates. Not only does this policy drain unions of resources to fight on behalf of workers, but having fewer dues-paying members also spells less clout at the bargaining table. It becomes much more difficult for workers to come together, speak up and get ahead. In the end, right-to-work hits workers squarely in the paycheck. Workers in right-to-work states earn less and are less likely to have employer-sponsored healthcare and pensions.

As a judge, Neil Gorsuch, Scalia’s replacement, sided with corporations 91 percent of the time in pension disputes and 66 percent of the time in employment and labor cases. If the court rules in favor of the Janus plaintiff—an Illinois public sector worker whose case not to pay union dues is being argued by the right-wing Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Foundation—then right to work could become the law of the land in the public sector, weakening unions and dramatically reducing living standards for millions of workers across the country.

To read the full article, click here.

Richmond Reads

Steve Early’s book, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City is now out in paperback! Many of you probably have purchased the hardback when it originally came out, but the affordable $18 version means that you can gift more of them to friends.   

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, a Senior Fellow at the Hass Institute discusses the impact of government policies that created racially explicit inequalities in the development of housing communities in Richmond, the Bay Area and nationally.

On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War by Kim Moody analyzes how changes in global capitalism have altered both the composition of the working class and the economic and political ground on which it struggles. Mentions the RPA as an example of how local unions can be critical to local level, third-party candidates.

In Memory of Richard Boyd

Richard Boyd was a treasure in our community. Born in San Francisco, Richard and his wife Denise Abersold, a teacher in Richmond, moved to Atchison Village in 2006 and made Richmond their home. Richard had empathy toward our community and an unwavering belief that every neighborhood in Richmond can and deserves to be a healthy, livable space. One of his first projects was to rid his neighborhood at the bottom of Macdonald of drug dealing and loitering. Richard was not contemptuous of those dealing drugs, but believed deeply that acceptance of these behaviors, resignation and turning a blind eye was the recipe for continued unhappy and wasted lives.

Richard’s most remarkable attribute was his acceptance of each individual and his ability to help those around him become better for having known him. He held his friends and mentees to the highest standards. He was always looking for ways for individuals or groups of people who felt estranged to find areas of commonality.

He was most proud of his role as a mentor of young people in Richmond. In his work with members of Safe Return he projected a confidence, that no matter the individual’s past, a productive and satisfying life was a possibility. With his endless patience, common sense approach and unwavering belief in each person he mentored, he helped many young people go places (literally and figuratively) that they never imagined for themselves.

Richard was a committed friend of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. He supported our campaigns and our councilmembers. While he had no hesitation to express differences, he was always available to us and toward the end of his life had committed himself to helping us become an even stronger, more diverse organization.

Richard was an extraordinary friend—available for any need—a ride to the airport, to the hospital, or just an ear when things were going wrong.

Richard led a meaningful life. In his own unique, understated and gifted way he left a living legacy. Our challenge is to continue his mission--to strengthen community by helping our young people to grow and continue the struggle. We will miss him.

Support Jovanka!

Jovanka Beckles is the only candidate in all of the nine Assembly District 15 candidates who refuses corporate money and has a political track record to prove that she fights for the issues while holding elected office. Now, we need your help to ensure that Jovanka emerges from the June 5th primary as one of two candidates who will face off in the November election to represent us in Sacramento.

In June of last year, one mainstream candidate considered to be a frontrunner for AD 15 reported $200,000 in her coffers. She worked on Obama’s campaign and led Hillary’s California primary campaign. Not surprisingly most of her treasury came from consultants, PR firms, politicians - the political establishment. Her list of endorsements begins with Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, and Howard Dean.

That same June, Jovanka had just under $50,000 – all from individual supporters. Jovanka’s list of endorsements reflects the coalitions she has worked with to get things done over the years: union members, city employees, transit workers, students, Teachers, environmentalists, housing rights activists, criminal justice advocates, and many more.

Jovanka’s campaign, made up of tireless dedicated individuals needs you. We have a strong people powered campaign. Join us to phone bank, to walk precincts. We need you to promote Jovanka as your favored candidate. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Kabir Kapur at (510) 915-1557.

Also, please donate as much and as you can as often as you can. Your donation will pay for lawn signs, literature and other campaign essentials. Together we can win  our people powered, corporate money-free campaign.

Victory! Rocketship charter application rejected!

Call it a small victory against Betsy Devos and the charter school agenda: At the January 17 West Contra Costa County School Board meeting, the Rocketship charter application was voted down!

Thanks to everyone who turned out in the last few months to show their support. After hearing from the staff analysis about Rocketship application, it would have been incredible if the board had approved it. School district staff pointed out several severe shortcomings with the application, including a significant proportion of unverifiable signatures in Rocketship’s petition. They also pointed out that Rocketship had a shocking history of five abandoned or closed schools in the Bay Area (Rocketship currently has thirteen).

But the battle is not over; Rocketship will probably petition to the county. The Invictus Charter application, which was rejected by the WCCUSD Board in July, was later approved unanimously by the County Board on September 6 in Pleasanton.

Recognizing Black Women

Strong black women have always been beacons for all women’s liberation.

Because they have been faced with hatred, resistance, and insult (subtly, and not so), they talk back, act back. And then they tower. A short list of examples include:

Rosa Parks, and before her Claudette Colvin.

Barbara Jordan.

Shirley Chisholm.

Anita Hill—coming to talk in Oakland March 10 about her #MeToo moment decades before there was a #MeToo campaign.

Barbara Lee—Oakland’s representative in the U.S. Congress

Nina Turner, former Senator from Ohio and Our Revolution president -- her grandma told her she has three strategic bones in her body: her wishbone, her jawbone, and her backbone.

Jovanka Beckles -- she’s got those bones too, because she’s had to, being a black Latina lesbian who endured hate speech on the Richmond City Council and successfully fought Chevron’s attempt to buy the Richmond City Council. Jovanka also helped pass the first local rent control measure in 30 years. She helped raise the minimum wage in Richmond. She supports single payer health care for all. She’s fighting to close corporate tax loopholes to help fund public schools and tuition-free college.

If you don’t know these strong black women, you should. Look them up -- be inspired and awed.

Also, consider coming out to the Sisters in Solidarity International Women’s Day Celebration, which will include speakers like Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton (CCC’s first black woman DA) and will be emceed by Councilmember Jovanka Beckles.

Gayle: Never Stop Fighting for Justice

In honor of Black History month, below is a beautiful essay penned by former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. Gayle, who is running for California Lt. Governor, was recently endorsed by Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution! Please volunteer with Gayle’s campaign or make a donation today! 

Frederick Douglas said: "I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs". He escaped slavery and became a resistance leader. Harriet Tubman told us: "Don't ever stop. If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going". Frederick and Harriet reached freedom and helped many others reach it. They took action.

There were also those who turned around to fight their oppressors. During my first year as Mayor of Richmond in 2007, I introduced a proclamation honoring the Black heroes of Harper’s Ferry (1859) and all those who fought against slavery and all those still struggling for liberation. African-Americans Osborn P. Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, Lewis Leary, John Copeland, and Shields Green joined the military invasion of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, led by John Brown and a small group of radical abolitionists, calling for slave insurrection, the end of slavery, and full control of their own destinies.

The actions of these brave freedom fighters became one of the most moving arguments for the end of slavery. Most of them died in the insurrection, except for O.P. Anderson, who escaped and later joined the Union Army as an officer.

Lucy Parsons was a 6-year-old slave girl in Texas at the time of Harper’s Ferry. She grew up to become an amazing American labor organizer. Lucy and her husband Albert were leaders in campaigning for the eight-hour work day. Although Albert was tried and executed in 1887, Lucy never stopped organizing, speaking, denouncing, writing, and demanding justice for working folks.

These true heroes are often excluded or erased from our history, yet their stories connect well with many subsequent struggles, all the way to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. During Black History Month I honor those brave Black men and women who rose up and fought oppression. I invite you to do the same. Let us be Californians of action against all injustice. “Don’t ever stop,” as Harriet said.                                                                                                                                 

Learning from Danica Roem

When I look back at how progressives won so many races last November, one victory particularly stands out: Danica Roem, who became the first transgender woman to win state-wide office in the U.S. Roem's victory was not only striking because of the barriers she broke, but because she had defeated longtime incumbent Robert G. Marshall.

Marshall, who authored the Virginia bathroom bill, proudly referred to himself as the state’s "chief homophobe,” and ran a campaign filled with bigoted personal attacks. After she won, dozens of news outlets rushed to interview Roem and ask her about her what it was like to emerge victorious after such a hostile campaign. She simply said, "I don't attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now."

It was a beautiful, moving, and gracious gesture which reminded me that in politics, vitriol does not have to be answered in kind. And that reminder came just in time. A month before, Mayor Tom Butt politically attacked my friends and neighbors Eli and Claudia.

I don’t know what Mayor Butt thought when he received that menacing email about Moore and Jimenez “deserving the death penalty or worse.” Hopefully he was shocked (because hopefully that message was out of the ordinary). And I don’t know what he did in response – whether he ignored it, or replied in an effort to tamp down that kind of talk.

But I do know that in October, he crossed a line. Mayor Butt had already started tearing down individuals in an effort to tear down the RPA. But this time, he went from going after someone’s character to going after their employment. He went from creating online controversy to creating risks for people’s personal security.

It was not election season negativity, nor was it a rant against a public official (e.g. part of openly criticizing our government). It was an attack against a constituent.

Claudia Jimenez puts it well: “As we repudiate this kind of hateful leadership at the federal level, we must not allow it in Richmond. Richmond residents cannot be in fear that their private conversations, their home address or other private information would be blasted out publicly by their mayor.  We need a mayor who focuses on Richmond’s real issues, not attacking constituents for disagreeing with him.”

We could all do well to learn from Danica Roem.

"They Deserve the Death Penalty"

According to an ACLU public records act request, an October 2017 Tom Butt e-forum blast incited a reader to respond to Butt that RPA members Eli Moore and Claudia Jimenez "deserved the death penalty... or worse." In an effort to scandalize the RPA, Butt's e-forum had falsely claimed, among other things, that Moore and Jimenez were not paying taxes on an “unpermitted” building on their property.

Butt's e-forum also revealed their address, making it easier for Butt's sympathizers to take their vitriol offline and engage in real-life threats and harassment. Indeed, Moore and Jimenez report that, after Butt doxxed them, their tenant (who now lives in their house) saw a woman hiding in the bushes in the front yard taking photos. "Mayor Butt’s inclusion of our home address served no purpose, except to potentially endanger the current residents of the house," Jimenez said in a medium.com blog. Given the intimidating emails Butt provoked, “this risk of danger is real.”

The blog sets the record straight about a number of allegations in Butt’s e-forum. It summarizes key findings from the 58 documents revealed by the ACLU public records request. In it, Jimenez questions why, if Butt had thought they had an unpermitted building, he did not just notify the appropriate city and county agencies and instead contacted Moore’s employer to “verify” allegations of housing law violations. She charges that Butt’s main aim was to whip up opposition to the RPA and to retaliate against Moore and Jimenez for “political differences and disagreements about issues of rent control, gentrification” and other policy matters. Ultimately, she concludes that “We need a mayor who focuses on Richmond’s real issues, not attacking constituents for disagreeing with him.”

City Moratorium on New Charter School Facilities

On January 30, the City Council extended a 45-day urgency ordinance prohibiting the approval of applications to construct, modify or place schools in certain commercial and mixed-use zoning areas. The moratorium was extended until December 17, 2018 so that the City staff could complete new zoning amendments that could potentially further restrict the establishment of schools.

Currently, Richmond has approximately ninety schools operating within its boundaries and at least eleven of them are public charter schools. Many of these charters are locating in mixed use zoning areas that are not meant for schools, but rather for commercial activities that generate tax revenue and provide employment.

The location of these charter schools are interfering with Richmond’s General Plan and Policies. For example, the City shifted a Light Industrial zone (once occupied by a business park) to Industrial Business in order to accommodate the planned expansion of an existing charter school. In Marina Bay, a former high-tech office was converted to a school; and in Hilltop approximately 13.4 acres of Industrial Business land that had contained 165,387square feet of one- and two-story commercial and industrial developments was purchased by Making Waves Charter School. According to the General Plan, Southern Shoreline and Hilltop were supposed to promote uses such as high-density housing. Now, they are suffering from traffic, parking and public safety difficulties from ill-located charter schools.

All the while, existing Richmond public schools are being hollowed out. Public schools anticipate that student enrollment will drop 34% in 2019-20, leading to excess facilities capacity and eventually school closures. This, according to the ordinance, “can lead and result in blighted conditions for communities that lead to significant public health, safety, and welfare impacts.”

The City of Richmond Planning and Building Services Department will conduct outreach to inform the proposed zoning changes. Check out this city webpage to keep up with development.