Working Partnerships USA: Bringing Prosperity to Working Families of the South Bay

December 20, 2007 -- Working Partnerships USA

Working Partnerships USA is a public policy institute that builds partnerships with community, labor, and faith organizations to improve the lives of working families in Silicon Valley. A founding member of the Partnership for Working Families, Working Partnerships USA’s work is concentrated in four focus areas: Economic Research and Analysis, Government Accountability and Reform, Expanding Health Care Access, and Organizing and Leadership Development. Through these four concentrations we tackle the issues directly impacting working families’ lives while supporting communities in building their ability to participate in decision-making.

In 2007, WPUSA made major strides in bringing affordable health coverage to employees of small businesses, fighting to put workers’ and communities’ concerns front and center in City budget and land use decisions, and organizing to strengthen bonds of solidarity between people of faith, low-wage workers, and community advocates. Significant victories this year included:

Real Budget Solutions: While the City of San Jose faces ongoing budget challenges affecting residents and public workers, privatization proponents in San Jose have seized on the budget problems as an opportunity to outsource City responsibilities. WPUSA seeks to shift the debate back to the core issue: How can a municipality provide quality services and ensure fair treatment of those who perform the work?

In 2007 we joined with neighborhood advocates to block a parks outsourcing proposal; WPUSA provided research showing that the privatization schemes proposed would bypass prevailing wage and safety standards and would not, in fact, save money. To move from a reactive stance to a proactive agenda, WPUSA recently convened a Community Budget Working Group that is undertaking a grassroots-driven process to engage a broad range of voices in developing budget solutions.

2007 Community Benefits Policy: In 2007, WPUSA passed the City’s first comprehensive community benefits policy. This victory was a culmination of our efforts over the last few years to apply community benefits standards to individual projects and large-scale land use decisions in San Jose. We developed a citywide policy starting in 2006, when we began working with the Sunshine Reform Task Force, an advisory body to the City Council. Through our work on the Task Force, WPUSA developed a unique proposal that incorporates public information requirements on all subsidized projects over $1 million as well as additional opportunities for the public to actively participate in the City Council’s decision-making process. Specific analysis includes data on job creation and job quality, affordable housing, neighborhood impacts, and net fiscal impact. The policy also mandates that all data regarding the project must be available to the public at least 30 days prior to City Council approval. This policy is currently being applied to six development proposals and in the next three months we will have the opportunity to expand the policy to include all City subsidized projects over $1 million.

Coyote Valley Development: In the past year we advanced our efforts to prioritize community needs in the development of Coyote Valley, a massive urban reserve in southern San Jose that is slated to add 70,000 new residents, 50,000 jobs, and 25,000 units of housing including 5,000 affordable units. Our recent efforts focused on developing a financing mechanism that will enable the project to move forward without draining funding from established San Jose neighborhoods, and on leading the Coyote Valley Health Care Focus Group in developing a plan for construction and financing of community health clinics. Finally, as transit planning has progressed, WPUSA is advocating for a system that will meet the needs of lower-income and transit-dependent residents, rather than a single train line that would serve primarily long-distance commuters.

City of San Jose General Plan: The update of San Jose’s General Plan in 2008-2010 is an opportunity for WPUSA to incorporate the lessons in community engagement from our Coyote Valley experience so that we can broaden the scope of traditional planning citywide. WPUSA’s Executive Director is a member of the City’s General Plan Taskforce. We are evaluating how we and our allies can leverage this experience to push for real community engagement throughout the planning process and to incorporate social equity and community health issues to a city of 1 million.

The Interfaith Council: The WPUSA-sponsored Interfaith Council brings together over 400 clergy and lay leaders throughout Silicon Valley to advocate for social and economic justice. In 2007 the Interfaith Council organized community support for a contracting Code of Conduct, joining with food service workers in demanding that high-tech companies treat their contracted service workers with dignity and respect their voices on the job. A highlight of this campaign came on Labor Day weekend, when roughly 60,000 people in 55 congregations, speaking six languages, heard stories from service workers and allies through the Interfaith Council’s Labor in the Pulpits program. At these services we collected 8,000 pledge cards supporting the Code of Conduct campaign to be delivered to key companies where contract workers are organizing. In 2008 we plan to expand the Code of Conduct campaign to support fair working conditions for the region’s more than 8,000 janitors, many of whom are employed as subcontracted workers at the same tech companies.

Life in the Valley Economy: This spring, WPUSA released a major economic framing study, Life in the Valley Economy 2007 (LIVE), aimed at reframing the regional conversation about economic growth and providing resources for community members to use in their advocacy and organizing work. In August 2007, we released a brief update to LIVE as part of the first coordinated release of a joint economic analysis and messaging project by four California-based PWF organizations.

Healthy Workers: WPUSA partnered with our local public health system to design a new model for providing affordable health insurance to low-wage workers at small businesses. Known as Healthy Workers, the program is a voluntary, employer-based health insurance plan for uninsured, low-to-moderate income employees of small businesses in Santa Clara County. At full rollout, we estimate 24,000 currently uninsured workers will be eligible for Healthy Workers; at the same time, the program will financially bolster the county hospital and the public health care safety net.

In fall 2007, the state bill authorizing Healthy Workers was passed, making it the only health coverage expansion bill to be signed into law in California this year. Enrollment is expected to begin February 1, 2008.