Americans can be proud of the strides made the last few decades towards construction of a fairer and more inclusive society. Yet while we’ve progressed in some respects, we’ve gone backward in others. In particular, we’ve allowed one of the key instruments of working-class power – union power – to be progressively undermined. This has contributed to the fact 40% of the nation’s wealth is now concentrated among the richest one percent of Americans, and half of Americans are essentially living paycheck to paycheck with little savings to fall back on in an emergency.
This is in great contrast to the 1950s, which Democrats don’t usually remember so fondly. This is because there was a lot of racist and sexist oppression going on. But 35% of American workers belonged to a union, and the average CEO was paid about 20 times the wage of an average worker. By comparison today, less than 12% of American workers are unionized, and by no coincidence, the average CEO had super-jumped to more than 350 times the average worker’s pay.
The lesson is clear. Americans and the American economy are stronger when working class labor rights are actively protected. This means strong unions. While we should all applaud the high-profile unionization efforts by Starbucks and Amazon employees, we shouldn’t forget the many other quieter, equally important and equally persistent fights for workplace dignity, quality living wages and good working conditions ongoing even here in left-leaning California.
That is why the San Bernardino County Democratic Party earlier this year passed two resolutions on two important labor issues. We feel these encapsulate the need to re-establish respect for unions and to stand up to employers who too often see their workforces as line items.
In the first of these, San Bernardino Democrats voted to join the boycott of the famed Chateau Marmont. This landmark Hollywood hotel is now locked in a bitter dispute with the hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 11 over what the union says is a decades-long pattern of labor malpractices, racial discrimination and sexual misconduct.
Hotel employees had begun organizing back in 2020 when the hotel management used the pandemic as an excuse to abruptly fire 200 workers with no severance package or extended health care. Forced to rehire many of those workers by a city ordinance, the hotel – according to Local 11 – continued its bad behavior. This led the National Labor Relations Board to rule last December that Chateau Marmont has “violated the National Labor Relations Act.” The union has now filed another complaint, claiming the hotel persists with activities in violation of workers’ rights.
Our resolution is very clear. It declares our “party stands with the... Chateau Marmont workers.”
The other resolution supports the proposed state bill AB 2183 (Stone), a bill that would provide for mail voting in farmworker union recognition elections. A more or less identical bill passed the California state legislature last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom – to the dismay of the United Farm Workers union, who’d campaigned hard against his recall and felt betrayed. Mail ballots helped keep Newsom in office, and in California, many workers have this right in union recognition elections. But farmworkers must vote at their job site, exposing them to subtle and not subtle threats and harassment by their employers. AB 2183 would correct this fundamental unfairness.
Our resolution casts no aspersions on Newsom, but urges him “to reconsider his position on this matter, and to work with Democratic state legislators and the UFW to pass a mail voting law that will effectually protect the right of farmworkers to choose union representation free from... employer intimidation.” AB 2183 is currently making its way through the various Assembly committees.
It’s significant that these resolutions were brought forward by a somewhat diverse cast of San Bernardino County Democrats. It’s significant that these resolutions were supported by committee members who identify as progressives and by others who don’t. Democrats of all ideological stripes agree on the importance of unionizing.
It’s easy to see why this is. History shows that when unions are strong, the Democratic Party is strong. And since economic equality is good for the country, this makes America stronger too.