Help Design Richmond’s Green-Blue Economy of the Future

By Justine Burt

Block Island Wind Farm

Block Island Wind Farm

California has ambitious environmental policy goals in place. By 2030, 30% of our land and waterways will be conserved. After 2035, 100% of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero emission. By 2045, 100% of electricity will come from renewable sources.

Closing the gap between our goals and where we are today will require millions of new green jobs. Building offshore wind turbines, retrofitting buildings for all electric, and recycling waste materials into new products are just a few examples of the kinds of projects that will build a just, equitable, resilient and sustainable future.

The Richmond Green-Blue New Deal Workforce Development Plan team is currently seeking input from Richmond residents about which green-blue projects to prioritize.

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HelloFresh Layoffs Aren't Cause for Celebration

By Shiva Mishek

In his latest e-forum blast, Mayor Tom Butt announced the closing of the HelloFresh warehouse location in Richmond, which will result in the layoff of 618 workers. Butt triumphantly notes, “There was a union election that the RPA supported, but unionization was turned down by a vote of the workers.”

Given the brutal working conditions at the HelloFresh warehouse, I would hope that the mayor of my city would be right there, first supporting low income workers who are his constituents fighting for a safer workplace, and then expressing dismay and concern for hundreds of people who now have no income. These layoffs come in a fiscal year with abnormally high inflation rates and gas prices—and all in one of the most expensive regions in the country for housing.

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In late May 2022, the City Council heard an inspiring account of a key component of the investment recommendations made by Richmond’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force, this one highlighting YouthWORKS. Tamara Walker, Deputy Director for Employment and Training, led the presentation. She worked in the city in the 1990s and was actually a founder of this forward-moving program. She did not take full credit, of course, noting that there is a full staff participating in this venture. She handed the mic over to Fred Lucero, Manager for Richmond Build and YouthBuild and Bouakhay Phongboupha, Interim YouthWORKS program manager for their accounts of preparing young people to work. Lucero noted that his group aims to ensure continuing education and training in year-round and summer programs helping youth prepare for high-growth and high-wage jobs in the building trades as well as develop skills that will aid them in adulthood.

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HelloFresh Workers' Union Drive Pushes On

Workers are just weeks away from their unionization vote and we want to show them how much our community has their back. There will be a HelloFresh Worker Solidarity Pep Rally & Art Build on November 11 to cheer on workers coming on & off of two of their work shifts with signs and noisemakers. We will also fill out postcards with messages of support and solidarity for workers to add to our art installation.

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Richmond Small Business Support

In response to the needs of restaurants and this new available funding stream, Councilmembers Jimenez and Willis and a team of volunteers developed a plan and materials to perform outreach to small businesses (and the formalized systems that support them, such as the City of Richmond and local business organizations) in March 2021. The primary goals of this outreach effort was to administer a survey of COVID-19 impacts to Richmond eateries and spread awareness about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund within the American Rescue Plan.The team contacted over 100 restaurants and surveyed 41%. 

In addition to the devastating health and safety impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of United States workers have experienced significant economic repercussions. Many small businesses have suffered due to necessary Shelter in Place orders initiated by Contra Costa County and the State of California. 

This employment crisis has uniquely impacted people of color, women, young people, immigrants, and the formerly incarcerated that America’s restaurants and bars employ.  At least 110,000 restaurants and bars closed since the pandemic’s start. 

Passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included a $28.6 billion grant program for struggling restaurants and bars, the first federal grant program available to help restaurants and bars since the pandemic began. 

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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.

Learn About Co-ops!

Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and controlled by the people who work in them. Co-ops provide a promising way for communities to create good, dignified jobs; and in the Bay Area, coops such as Arizmendi are long-standing community institutions.

Under the mayorship of Gayle McLaughlin, Richmond promoted co-ops in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis by creating a position to support the development of coops. Today, a relatively new organization, Cooperation Richmond, is continuing that mission by providing a range of services, including education, “matchmaking” for prospective cooperative starters and co-owners, coaching and a loan fund.

Want to learn more about how coops strengthen Richmond's economy, or interested in joining/starting a coop yourself?  Join Cooperation Richmond on Wednesday, October 25 from 5pm - 8pm at Rich City Rides Bike Skate Cooperative Shop (1500 MacDonald Avenue). Happy hour libations and snacks will be provided!

Fight for 15 in Richmond

The Richmond City Council  voted 6 to 1 (Tom Butt opposed) to direct staff to draft an ordinance increasing the Richmond Minimum wage  in steps to $15.00/hr by January 2019. The ordinance also will remove several exemptions in our current ordinance. While this is still far below a “living wage” in the Bay Area  it is a big improvement for low wage workers. The draft ordinance will be brought to the Council for a first reading on July 11.  Council members felt it was important to move quickly to give businesses time to prepare for the first step increase in January 2018 and because low wage workers are hurting  in this economy.

Minimum Wage Hike Headed for Approval

On June 3, 2014, the Richmond City Council unanimously passed a first reading of our Minimum Wage Increase Ordinance. The second reading will take place on June 17th and is expected to pass again with unanimous support. This great victory for Richmond is long overdue!

This ordinance mandates a phased-in approach to raising the minimum hourly wage in Richmond in the following way:
Jan 2015 $ 9.60
Jan 2016 $11.52
Jan 2017 $12.30
Jan 2018 $13.00
Cost of living increases every year thereafter.

We are on our way to providing a wage that will help more families live with dignity. We are also helping our business community; when residents have more money to spend, our local economy has an opportunity to thrive and expand, and to create more jobs.

Make no mistake: the new wage level still leaves workers below the “living wage,” and we must do more. But the ordinance represents a significant and continuous increase in the wages of low-paid workers.

This successful initiative is also a prime example of the grassroots model to produce change, from the bottom up. Local communities like Richmond can spur change at the state and—eventually—the federal level by creating a multi-city, multi-state insurgence of demands. Richmond benefited from the small steps taken by other California cities, by the example of fast-food workers all over the nation who mobilized and went on strike for “$15 and a union.” Our local mobilization influenced other communities in the East Bay and elsewhere who joined in with their own initiatives, ordinances and ballot measures. Now the State of California is proposing measures similar to what we proposed and gained in Richmond.

The fact that this first reading, introduced by myself, Vice Mayor Beckles and Councilmember Myrick, passed unanimously is especially noteworthy given the recent history of this ordinance. At a previous meeting, several odious amendments were proposed by councilmembers in response to pressures from some businesses. We were able to get the Council to back away from exempting youth, nonprofits, tipped workers, and other unfair exemptions, which would have made the ordinance unworkable. A lot of credit goes to the Labor movement, especially to SEIU, for filing a ballot measure without carve-outs and with a faster phased-in approach. The filing of this ballot measure put pressure on the councilmembers who favored these amendments. The current ordinance still has a few carve-outs that may make it somewhat hard to implement. We accept these for now in order to get this ordinance on the books and enacted. With the victory of Team Richmond in November 2014, the Council will change, and we can improve the ordinance.

This is a time to celebrate our progressive journey in Richmond. With the support of labor and our working families, we put the needed pressure on the City Council and showed once again that we are building on a decade of progress and leading the way to a just future for all!