Sat, May

Impact: The Latest On Living Wages, Fracking, Prop 13 and More

JUST SAYIN’-As I have done in the past, this article is devoted to updating you on some of the most significant issues that affect all of us today. 

1.  March for Minimum Living Wage Increases: 

This last Thursday we witnessed a massive march across the country and the world (consider the many “American” fast-food outlets dotting every vacation spot abroad), demanding a living wage for fast-food workers.  Keep in mind that a living wage is not the same as an increased minimum wage 

Yes, $10.10 an hour is better than 7 or 9 dollars but neither produces a wage on which one can maintain an acceptable standard of living.  Even at $10 an hour, a worker earns only about $20,000 a year (and that is only if the employee works 40 hours a week, a salary that does not usually include any additional benefits), a level still far below the poverty line (about $23,000 for a family of four).  

When queried, many of these workers would like to finish their education by getting a college degree but cannot afford to do so based upon their low wages.  Most fast-food workers these days are not mere teenagers trying to earn a little pocket money but are people who need to support themselves or help their parents supplement their incomes, parents who are often earning the  minimum wage themselves. 

Would it surprise you that our nation’s CEOs earn millions of dollars annually but hold to the belief that their companies cannot afford to provide a living wage for the very workers who create the wealth for these corporations whose bosses simply rake in the monies “looted” from what ought to be an employee’s fair wage?  One rationale:  these bosses claim that since the workers in question are usually unskilled, they are not deserving of higher wages. 

Would it surprise you to learn what the net profits are of the fast-food companies which are fighting to keep employees at starvation wages?  For instance, in 2013 McDonald’s netted $5.6 billion; Wendy’s, $45.5 million; Domino’s Pizza, $143 million; Yum (whose subsidiaries include Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut), $1.09 billion. 

If corporations are reluctant to raise wages because they hate to part with any portion of their profits, what if they increased the cost of each food selection by a few pennies, up to maybe 5¢?   That would more than cover a decent wage and maybe even allow for a few benefits in the package as well.  

On the other hand, remember my article on Moo Cluck Moo?  However counter-intuitive it may seem, Moo’s owners pay their employees $15 an hour and are still able to keep their prices down! 

And keep in mind, the more an employee earns, the more that person spends, the greater boost to the economy, the increased opportunity presents itself for the creation of new or expanded businesses, and, due to increased product demand, the more likely to hire more of the un- and underemployed.  These workers are asking for a reasonable $15.00 an hour.  Is that asking too much? 

And all the above does not address the additional benefit to those employees who go on to earn higher degrees.  They will earn more money and, consequently, will pay more taxes rather than depending on other taxpayers to support them.  People working full time simply should not have to look to the government (we, the people) for financial and service support.  And, besides, there is certainly something to be said about pride—in one’s self, in the feeling of contribution to society, in becoming veritable stakeholders in their communities. 

2.  Fracking, Oil Pipelines, and Water: 

Also last week a study came out stating in no uncertain terms that the human factor is largely responsible for California’s increase in earthquake activity.  When the 1994 Northridge earthquake occurred, fracking was not a technology on anyone’s headline (it was in its infancy in the 1950s).  We have been confronted with earthquakes since the beginning of time—so 1994 was indeed an act of Nature.  What we are witnessing now in California and throughout the nation (and world), however, are acts of Man. 

Pumping out water (groundwater is very heavy) in the Central Valley is performed to feed crops (foods on which we depend).  Removing the weight of this liquid causes change in the Earth’s upper crust which contributes to increased movement, hence the temblors with which we are all too familiar. 

Hydraulic fracturing creates a similar cavern beneath ground level.  Not only is the process contributing to pollution of air and water, let alone contamination of food and health, but  fracking is similarly a “henchman” in producing negative ground movement. 

Last week we were horrified as we witnessed an underground oil pipeline rupture near LA’s Downtown area, spilling over 10,000 gallons of oil.  We can only imagine what is likely to transpire should the Keystone Pipeline be given authorization.  There is both human cost and depletion to our treasury when such accidents occur.  Can either consequence ever be reversed? 

Now we are hearing more about how Valero wants to run a pipeline from Canada to transport the even more dreadful tar sands (“the dirtiest of all crudes”).  This process, like fracking, requires huge amounts of water and energy.  Currently, “the Bay Area’s five refineries have quietly moved toward transporting controversial Canadian tar sands crude oil via another means:  rail”!  Phillips 66 (which supplies Costco gasoline), Chevron Richmond, Shell, Tesoro Golden Eagle, and Benicia’s Valero all want to transport tar sands crude and synthetic crude by rail—a method well-known for its disproportionate accidents as compared even to pipelines. 

The City of Los Angeles is supporting a Statewide prohibition on fracking (the moratorium lasting as long as it takes until science can prove that this process is environmentally safe and not a threat to the human (and plant and animal) condition.  

The Water Bond Proposition (AB 1331) which will be on November’s ballot fits right in with the challenges we face with fracking and oil pipelines.  In my opinion, they really overlap in importance.  We cannot support one without the other. [Please read my article on this very subject from last Thursday.] 

3.  Modification of Proposition 13 through the Implementation of AB 2372 (Split Roll): 

I have also written recently about the positive effects of modifying the 1978 Proposition 13 legislation.  It has been an uphill battle for decades to make any changes.  I compare the opposition of people like Grover Norquist (who threaten any lawmaker who even considers passing any form of a tax increase) with the historical Jarvis opposition to property tax changes. 

Thus, I was blown away when I learned that the Howard Jarvis (the man behind Prop 13—now deceased) Taxpayers Association is actually backing the proposed AB 2372.  One can certainly interpret this bill as not authorizing new taxes on anyone but only collecting the taxes that many companies have avoided paying for some 36 years (having sought dubious loopholes to accomplish this evasion).  The California Roundtable and the California Chamber of Commerce are also siding with the mandate for all to pay their fair share—and “fair” is the key. 

Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano (AD 17) and Raul Bocanegra (AD 39) together introduced AB 2372 which would rectify the inequity with which Proposition 13 has been implemented.  In my opinion, everyone believes that each of us must pay our fair share of taxes so that our communities and State can prosper and flourish.  This bill, once passed, would eliminate those tricky loopholes and garner millions every year for the State, monies that will “trickle down” to each of us through newly funded or expanded current services. 

Currently, businesses can utilize legal maneuvers and other methods to obscure transactions to avoid paying the rightful amount of taxes they would otherwise be required to pay.  The language in the new bill would provide clarity and transparency so that assessors can do their jobs in order to collect the appropriate payments.  Transfer of ownership between the current company title holder and the new one could no longer be hidden through unscrupulous practices that have robbed our State of millions, if not billions, of dollars over the last nearly four decades.  

Consider how different our economy might be now if those monies had been available over the years.  Remember all the cut-backs, limitations, or cancellation of services we have experienced?

I wonder whose life was cut short from healthcare denial or whose education was not obtained or whose jobs were lost due to these shortfalls? 

4.  A Statewide Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags: 

Apparently, the sky did not fall when the ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect this past January for the City of Los Angeles (more than 100 cities and counties throughout the State have issued such bans as well).  People have adjusted to the practice of bringing their own re-usable bags to the markets.  

Jobs have not been lost; neither has the economy suffered.  What is more, workers at plastic bag manufacturers are either producing plastic bags for other locations or have been retrained to work in other aspects of the plastic industry.  Remember those famous words in the film, The Graduate?  In recommending a future profession for the recent graduate, one gentleman states, “One word, son—plastics.”   How prescient!  Nevertheless, we are all charged with using this innovation responsibly. 

In fact, as more businesses, labor groups, and environmental organizations recognize the value of this piece of legislation, they are forming coalitions and jumping on board.  Plastic bag manufacturer, Command Packaging in Los Angeles County, and similar companies are beginning to see how they can benefit from this law since “manufacturers would be able to apply for $2 million in state financing to produce re-usable plastic bags instead” of the single-use bags they were making. 

Last year, State Senator Alex Padilla (SD 20) introduced a bill to ban these bags at the State level.  It was close to passage in the Legislature but fell short by only 3 votes (then State Senator/now LA City Councilmember Curren Price was one of the No votes). 

Senator Padilla was not daunted, however, by this disappointment and, consequently, re-introduced a similar bill (SB 270) this year.  It has been enthusiastically received in both houses and by both sides of the aisle, but wouldn’t you know, outside money is pouring in by Big Corporate interests to dissuade our lawmakers in Sacramento from supporting both good environmental practice and the voters’ wishes.  Many of “these out-of-state special interests reap millions of dollars in profits from the environmental crisis that plastic bag litter creates, and taxpayers foot the bill.” 

Padilla has said that “Californians use 13 billion single-use plastic bags each year -- 97% of which end up in places like our landfills, our parks, our beaches, and our neighborhoods.”   Furthermore, “California state and local governments spend $107 million every year to manage plastic bag litter.”  We certainly cannot expect to thrive in the kind of society we know and in which we want to live if we do nothing to curb these bad practices. 

5.  Labeling of GMOs and the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP): 

On Saturday, May 24, there will be marches across the nation to speak out against the Monsantos and similar companies (I shall be speaking at the one at the Van Nuys Civic Center) which use genetically modified organisms to produce our food or to feed the animals which we in turn consume.  Since we do not at present know for certain the long-term effects of such nutrients, we must demand that we are clearly informed of their presence so that we can intelligently make our food-choice decisions.  The ramifications could be staggering. 

At these same rallies there will be discussion of the impact the approval of the TPP will have on all of us.  Just a few days ago U. S. Senator Elizabeth Warren reminded us of the concerns we should have over this agreement.  She quoted a constituent who said:   “[The negotiations] have to be secret because if the American people knew what was actually in them [the wording of the bill], they would be opposed.” 

Warren went on to say the following: 

“Real people, people whose jobs are at stake, small-business owners who don’t want to compete with overseas companies that dump their waste in rivers and hire workers for a dollar a day—those people, people without an army of lobbyists—they would be opposed.  I believe if people across this country would be opposed to a particular trade agreement, then maybe that trade agreement should not happen.” 

We have elected those leaders I have referenced.  They are there to represent us and our interests.  Let us support them by letting them know we endorse the various measures about which I have spoken (now and in previous articles). 

We have that power.  Let’s use it. 

Just sayin’.


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)










Vol 12 Issue 41

Pub: May 20, 2014