By Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Executive Director
Working Partnerships USA is a public policy institute that builds partnerships with community, labor and faith organizations to improve the lives of families in Silicon Valley. In 2008, WPUSA scored a series of big victories that will benefit thousands of working families in our community.
In October, the San Jose City Council voted 8-1 to expand living wage to all workers at the San Jose Airport, which included 500 hundred low-wage workers employed by airport subcontractors that provide critical services to airlines such as baggage handling, aircraft servicing and customer service. Many workers will see wages increased by 50% or more in some cases and for the first time will have the opportunity to receive health benefits and training on the job. This campaign was done in partnership with SEIU 1877. Supporters for the living wage effort included many community and faith leaders along with Southwest Airlines (the airport’s biggest carrier).
In December the San Jose City Council voted to create a citywide affordable housing policy, which previously affected only designated redevelopment areas and the city’s downtown. Once implemented, twenty percent of all newly developed homes in the nation’s 10th largest city will be affordable to very low, low and moderate-income families.
In 2008, the accountable development tool created by WPUSA, known as the Cost Benefit Analysis was applied to three San Jose economic development projects that (if approved) would have received more than $1 million in public subsidies. In each case, the Cost Benefit Analysis provided valuable data regarding the project’s projected community impact including the fiscal return to the city, predicted wages for workers and the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. As a result, in mid-2008, the San Jose City Council voted to apply the Cost Benefit Analysis to all proposals requesting more than $1 million in public funding. In early 2009 the Council will decide whether to permanently pass the Cost Benefit Analysis.
WPUSA published Live in the Valley Economy 2008 in August, the second annual installment of our report framing the economic trends affecting working families in our region. LIVE 2008 focused on the long-term economic challenges posed by "business as usual" policies in Silicon Valley and throughout the country emphasizing the national implications of these local trends. LIVE 2008 details 10 innovative solutions that we have proposed or enacted at a grassroots level to tackle these problems. LIVE 2008 received coverage in the San Jose Mercury News; the San Francisco Chronicle; KQED-FM, the local public radio outlet; local ABC, NBC and Fox News television stations and two Chinese-language print outlets.
Improving wages and benefits at the Hyatt
With support from the Interfaith Council on Religion, Race, Economic and Social Justice, WPUSA worked side-by-side with the faith community to support a union organizing effort for 300 workers at the Santa Clara Hyatt hotel, collecting more than 6,000 cards signed by congregants supporting justice and dignity. In addition, more than 100 clergy and lay leaders attending the Presbyterian Church USA’s Biennial General Assembly signed a letter in support of the workers and more than 50 priests, rabbis, pastors and lay leaders joined in a prayer and worship service in support. Subsequently, the Roman Catholic dioceses that had used the Hyatt for a conference voted not to use the hotel again until workers’ needs were addressed and the Bishop of Monterey prayed with the workers and lent his pastoral support.
WPUSA in 2009
Despite these successes, WPUSA has a full plate for 2009 that includes both ongoing campaigns as well as new projects, including:
- Green Jobs: WPUSA is developing a model for a “green building retrofits” program, which will create good jobs, help low-income residents save energy and money, and will be replicable in other regions. We’re also engaged in policy advocacy for green and equitable communities, both at the local level through a new approach to transportation and land-use planning, and at the state level through partnering to advocate for economic and social justice in the implementation of AB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act.
- Universal Prevention: Following on the heels of our Children’s Health Initiative, which has been widely replicated, and Healthy Workers, which should begin enrolling employees of small businesses later this year, our latest health care proposal under development seeks to extend a specified list of preventive medical services to every resident of Santa Clara County regardless of their health insurance coverage.
- City Budget: We are also planning to broaden the work of our Community Budget Working Group concept, which cracked open a closed city budget process last year.
- Big Box Ordinance: For the last few months we have also led an effort to develop a “big box” ordinance in the City of Santa Clara. A proposal and a recommendation for approval will be discussed at the Santa Clara City Council meeting in January 2009.