The goals of San Francisco’s economic development policies should be to support entities that have a maximum local multiplier, including commitments to hiring locally; provide living wages, benefits, and economic stability; and promote local ownership and/or community and worker control. Given these goals, we need to find ways at the local level to institutionalize labor standards. We need to rethink the conflict between “local hires” and unionized jobs. “Labor Standards” should mean higher wages, economic stability, benefits; living wages / benefits (with portability) should be the benchmark.
All across San Francisco and the U.S., workers are in crisis. Low-wage workers and immigrants and people of color in particular are facing devastating levels of unemployment, wage theft and labor law violations, lack of safe and healthy options for economic development, and cuts to the social safety net—problems that existed long before the Wall Street crisis and which the crisis has only exacerbated. Federal initiatives to create jobs are inadequate for the scale of need in a “jobless” economic recovery, and Mayor Newsom’s job initiatives rely on private sector give-aways that do not address the needs for sustainable economic and community development for those most impacted by the crisis and historical injustice.
Strengthening enforcement of labor laws and raising labor standards are two of the most effective ways to improve the economic security of low-income families and stimulate the local economy. The San Francisco Minimum Wage Ordinance (MWO) adopted by voters in 2003 was projected to increase the annual income of the 55,000 lowest paid workers by a combined $100 million per year.[i] This significant transfer of wealth from businesses, most of which are large corporations based outside of San Francisco, to low-income families would boost the local economy because studies have shown that low-paid workers who receive pay increases are likely to spend most of their increased earnings locally.[ii] Unfortunately, due to the lax enforcement of the MWO and San Francisco’s other progressive labor laws including mandatory paid sick leave, the economic benefits to low-income families and our local economy have not been fully realized. A recent survey of over 400 immigrant restaurant workers in San Francisco Chinatown found that __% had suffered at least one labor law violation. The prevalence of such practices make it hard for employers that want to be responsible, since competitive factors force cutting costs and lowering standards on working conditions.[iii]
1. Strengthen enforcement of San Francisco’s labor laws
The city should prioritize and strengthen enforcement of local labor laws such as the Minimum Wage Ordinance and Paid Sick Leave Ordinance focusing on sectors known to have exploitative working conditions and high concentrations of vulnerable workers. The city should maximize limited enforcement resources through effective collaboration between the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, Department of Public Health and other agencies and by streamlining the administrative enforcement process. Innovative new enforcement initiatives should be developed and implemented such as a wage bond system to stop runaway wage-stealing employers. The city should support responsible employers in priority sectors who agree to a sweat-free code of conduct by providing multilingual technical assistance, marketing support and easy access to financial assistance and credit.
2. Support workers’ right to organize and wage campaigns by worker centers and unions.
In workplaces where organized groups of workers have presented grievances or demands to their employer, the city should do everything in its power to compel the employer to negotiate in good faith and respond in a timely manner. Additionally, while we may not be able to pass a local version of EFCA (preempted by the National Labor Relations Act), a creative alternative is to have a local law that requires employers to have a just cause for termination with a grievance procedure and progressive discipline and a local labor relations board that hears cases of unfair firings, including firings of workers exercising their labor rights.
3. Create a coordinated jobs program for local hiring.
For both residential & public facility retrofits, the City must create a coordinated jobs program for local hires, recruitment and support for smaller, local contractors, and stimulating local light industrial suppliers. Programs and new businesses should be encouraged that would specifically take in new green jobs trainees with the proper certification, leveraging Federal grants to create a demand for our new trainees.
4. Unbundle city contracts to provide pathways for local hires.
Employment training must ensure job placement, for example, through unbundling city contracts to ensure that portions of contracts are directed specifically to local hires from training programs. If necessary, this could lead to the creation of new nonprofit business enterprises specifically geared to work on portions of contracts, and hiring certified personnel coming out of training programs. The city should also develop mechanisms for oversight, accountability, and reporting to track the contracting and employment outcomes for local and minority contractors and local workers.
[i] Lantsberg, Alex, Policy Brief: Assessing the Distribution of Wage Increases and Answering Public Policy Questions Regarding a San Francisco Minimum Wage, UC Berkeley Labor Center, October 2003
[ii] Reich, Michael and Laitinen, Amy, Raising Low Pay in a High Income Economy: The Economics of a San Francisco Minimum Wage, UC Berekely Institute for Labor and Employment, May 2003