Calif. unions rally for the right to organize

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – “We’re under attack, not in Afghanistan but in San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Central Valley and across California. We’re being intimidated from within,” said Art Pulaski, secretary-treasurer of the California Federation of Labor. International watchdog groups have found that U.S. labor laws are not protecting workers’ rights, he told a rally at the Capitol here June 25.

The rally was held in support of workers’ right to unionize. Most American workers want to be able to join a union without intimidation, but they are routinely spied upon and harassed by their employers.

The two-year-old California law prohibiting employers from using taxpayers’ money to intimidate workers who want to unionize is under attack from the State Chamber of Commerce, Pulaski said.

Pulaski’s organization also supports SB-1818, introduced by State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), which would protect undocumented workers from unjust firing by levying penalties on offending employers. “The Supreme Court says it’s okay to illegally fire undocumented workers. That’s a conspiracy on America, and we have to fight back,” said Pulaski.

Jerry Morales, of the Northern California Organizing Department of the Laborer’s International Union and president of the Sacramento Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), introduced several people who have experienced anti-union harassment. “They [the companies] have the money and the power, but we have the heart,” said Morales.

Jorge Noriega, who works for a Stockton building company, testified in Spanish that when the workers got together and told their employer that they needed some changes, he told them, “If we didn’t like it, we should take a hike.”

Francisco Guerrero, a certified nurse’s aide in a Sonoma health facility, told the group that when the workers joined Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 250 both for their own rights and to get better patient care, the company spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to intimidate the workers, although they knew it was illegal. “That money should have gone to patient care,” he said. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer is currently investigating the company.

Ramiro Hernandez, of Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), described how the workers at the Mission Laundry in Sacramento won a neutrality agreement as a result of worker solidarity. “It was not enough to stand strong,” he said. “We reached out to every Central Labor Council in the state, to the community and the churches. The company threatened to fire workers, but we finally got our best contract.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org