The Activist

Issue #269, 05-06-2019


In this issue:
Richmond workers deserve a fair contract
NUHW continues its struggle with Kaiser
Tuesday: important city council meeting!
We need a functioning Police Review Commission!
A step closer to limiting coal in Richmond
California Progressive Alliance hosts founding convention
Democrats undermine renter protections
Pass it on!

Richmond workers deserve a fair contract

We who strive for social change in Richmond know that for the most part, people acting by themselves have little power against big money. The same is true for individuals working for an employer; most of us need a union to get fair conditions at work.

The RPA actively supports unions, as evidenced by our support of the recent Oakland Teachers strike. And we also have consistently backed union-friendly policies like Project Labor Agreements, which maintain good jobs and good quality work. In particular, we are concerned about the Richmond city workers. After all, these public employees work for us -- the residents – and when a city implements good labor policies, it improves all of our lives.

Libraries, well-maintained streets and parks, recreation opportunities for our youth and elders, and code enforcement are as important to our community as police and fire. Police and fire often deal with the problems after they have emerged, but these other city services can help prevent the emergence of some of these problems. And public services, brought to us by dedicated city workers, help create a good quality of life.

Unfortunately, Richmond city workers have borne the brunt of our city’s financial difficulties. They have had no raise in 4 years. With inflation, that means they have effectively taken a 12% 10% pay-cut. This pay freeze is particularly hard on lower paid city workers who, faced with skyrocketing housing costs, increasingly cannot afford to live in Richmond. For example, half of the city workers in SEIU Local 1021 make less than $60,000 per year.

In addition to the pay freeze, the City has avoided filling vacancies. This means that either services are cut back (e.g. library hours are greatly reduced, parks are neglected, etc.) or remaining workers are put under increasing pressure to pick up the additional workload. Without adequate staffing, workers don’t have the time to do a good job and bear the brunt from residents who are frustrated by delays.

Another tactic the city has used to save money is by abusing its use of “temporary” workers. This contributes to a broader problem in our economy where work is undercompensated, lacks benefits, is insecure and where workers are more easily taken advantage of.

Of course we recognize that there is a deeper context to these cost-cutting measures, including the fact that state of California is not doing enough to help urban areas like Richmond. And the city is right to try to save money and put it into an emergency fund.

But it is not fair to save it on the backs of the lowest paid city workers, There are other ways to save; for example, city staff is proposing to use a Police Lieutenant to redact files to respond to public requests. They figure the cost to be $153.00 hour. Having the police determine what police records he public is more than just bad policy -- it is also a waste of money. City workers paid at much less could be trained to do the redaction – far fairer and cheaper. We should also be looking at the high salaries of the top city management. 

The city needs to agree to a fair contract with our employees.

Please come out this Tuesday to the City Council meeting to support our workers!

NUWH continues its struggle with Kaiser

National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents mental health workers and clinicians at Kaiser, including Kaiser Richmond, have been turning up the heat on the HMO. They are advancing a suite of demands, including increasing staffing so that mental health patients don’t have to wait for 1-2 months to receive care; and improving recruitment and retention by providing therapists with the same raises and benefits received by other unionized Kaiser staff.

In December 2018, NUHW clinicians held a five-day statewide strike, including a picket in front of Kaiser Richmond, that sparked public awareness about mental health and put pressure on Kaiser to address its failures. The strike was followed last month by an April 17 action in Oakland, where Kaiser patients, clinicians, and community leaders came together to press their demands. But when several patients and their family members tried to enter the building in hopes of scheduling a meeting with CEO Bernard Tyson, Kaiser officials locked the doors and refused them entry.

The pressure escalated afterwards with widespread news coverage and an April 23 San Francisco Board of Supervisors resolution calling on Kaiser Permanente to achieve “full parity for mental health patients.” The resolution, among other things, called on Kaiser to limit wait times to no more than ten days for return appointments for most patients.

Two days later, Tyson finally meet with the patients. The patients reported having a long discussion with Tyson and other executives, and urged Kaiser to work with its clinicians to improve access to mental health care.

NUHW’s struggle for adequate patient access to mental health care has been ongoing for many years already. In 2011, NUHW clinicians filed a complaint with the California Department of Managed Health Care documenting how Kaiser, despite having billions of dollars in reserves, refused to provide the mental health care services to which they were entitled under state and federal law.

The report helped triggered a state investigation that resulted in a $4 million fine — the largest financial penalty levied against an HMO for violating California’s Mental Health Parity Act. In 2015, NUHW won a landmark contract that included provisions aimed at increasing staffing and reducing wait times for appointments. However, Kaiser didn’t honor its pledge. Three years after the contract was signed, Kaiser still had just one mental health clinician for every 3,000 Kaiser members.

Tuesday: important city council meeting

Please come out this Tuesday to the City Council meeting (6:30pm at the Council Chambers at Richmond City Hall).

[Sheila Dickenson, Children's Librarian, testifies April 2, 2019]

The meeting starts at 6:30pm; please arrive a few minutes early to fill out your speaker cards and turn them into the City Clerk.

  • Speak in support of the idea of a “floating quorum” for the Community Police Review Commission, a way to ensure the CPRC can again meet and overcome Mayor Butt’s efforts to stymie the Commission. (See article below.) To keep your options open, fill out two speakers cards -- one to speak during Open Forum at the start of the meeting, one to speak to Councilmember Martinez's floating quorum item, currently Item J2. 
  • Speak during Open Comment in support of our city workers, who have gone 4 years without a cost-of-living increase, and are demanding a fair contract.
  • In addition, the Santa Fe Neighborhood Council is trying urgently to appeal of a decision by the Planning Commission to allow a new storage facility on Cutting.

We need a functioning Police Review Commission!

As many of you know, Mayor Tom Butt is still refusing to appoint new members to fill the four vacancies on the CPRC. Because the City Council refused to support one of his preferred appointments in April, Butt pledged, "I will guarantee you that I will not appoint another person the police commission until my term is over three years and ten months from now if the council doesn't support this. You guys make your choice."  (See video at about 5:32:10.) 

As a result of the Mayor's unwillingness to fill seats, 4 out of the last 5 CPRC meetings were cancelled due to lack of quorum. What makes this even worse is that several cases, including two recent officer-involved shootings, are crying out for citizen review. 

Thankfully, multiple City Council members are working to resolve this issue. 

The first possible solution, an item authored by Eduardo Martinez, will go before the City Council tomorrow (May 7). Currently item J2 on the agenda, it would amend the CPRC ordinance so that the quorum for the meetings is a percentage of the number of people seated on the Commission at the time (a "floating quorum").  With 5 people on the Commission now, Councilmember Martinez’s item would reduce the quorum to 3 people, meaning fewer cancelled meetings.  This won't fix the problem of the Commission having with fewer people than it needs to properly do its job, but it's an important first step out of the crisis that the Mayor has created.

We are asking everyone to come to the City Council Meeting this Tuesday and speak in favor of Councilmember Martinez's "floating quorum" item, about the importance of a well-functioning CPRC, and the problem of a Mayor who puts his own agendas above the well-being of the city. 

A step closer to limiting coal in Richmond

Historically, the Levin-Richmond Terminal exported small amounts of coal and petroleum coke, or "petcoke." But as U.S. demand for coal began to drop, the coal industry is setting its sights on overseas markets, promoting the Levin terminal to dramatically ramp up operations.

In 2018, the Levin-Richmond Terminal shipped 944,144 metric tons of coal – a 435% increase since 2013. It is stored in large piles at the terminal and in mile-long trains of open railcars that sit in Richmond's residential neighborhoods. Coal and petcoke dust contain substances such as mercury, arsenic and lead that cause severe, permanent harm to people of all ages, especially children.

In December 2018, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to send to the City Attorney for review the Richmond Coal Ordinance. This land use ordinance relies on the city's police powers to regulate businesses in the interest of residents' health and safety, and it contains three main provisions:

  1. It prohibits new coal operations on private land in the city; 
  2. It prevents existing facilities from expanding;
  3. It provides for a graduated phase-out of coal operations. 

At the Richmond City Council meeting Tuesday April 23, Mayor Butt put a proposal on the agenda to prohibit new coal and petcoke facilities and prevent expansion of existing facilities, e.g. the Levin-Richmond Terminal. Notably, it falls short of phasing out coal operations.

Contra Costa Board of Supervisors President John Gioia sent a letter to the council that included the following recommendation:

As part of approving Mayor Butt’s proposal tonight, the Council should also: (1) direct that the City continue to move forward with its previous direction to develop an ordinance to phase out existing operations, and (2) clarify that even after the zoning change, there needs to be further review of the City’s permit records before making a final determination that the existing coal/coke facility is a “legal non-conforming use.”

The council voted in favor of the proposal with the inclusion of the above paragraph, also “with the understanding it complements the other ordinance changes that we’re working on.” (Councilmember Eduardo Martinez)

JOIN US TO CANVASS NEIGHBORHOODS!
We've been canvassing Richmond neighborhoods since late February, and we'll continue until the Richmond Coal Ordinance comes before the City Council for a vote. Already we have collected more than 700 signatures!

  • RSVP: action@sunflower-alliance.org
  • When: Saturday, 5/11 and Sunday, 5/26, 3:00–5:30 
  • Where: Meet at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center, 2540 Macdonald Ave., Richmond, across from the Richmond Main Library (look for the "Caspers" sign), an 11-minute walk from Richmond BART Station

[Photo: SF Baykeeper]

California Progressive Alliance hosts founding convention

The founding Convention of the California Progressive Alliance (CPA) took place in San Luis Obispo on March 30-31 and was an enormous success and a big step forward! The Richmond Progressive Alliance is an ally organization of the CPA and some 10 RPA members attended the convention as individual members. The house was packed with over 250 Californians from more than 100 cities participating. Posted on the CPA website are some of the videos from the convention produced by Mansoor Sabbagh, director of Global Voices for Justice Convention Videos

It was a well organized jam-packed weekend of networking, speakers, panels, proposal presenters, as well as voting on proposals and the election of a new Steering Committee. Gayle McLaughlin was elected Chair of the CPA.

See all membership-approved proposals here and the 2019 Steering Committee is currently listed on the website www.californiaprogressivealliance.org. There were many sign-ups for Action Teams and Standing Committees. These teams and committees are listed on the website here. Feel free to email the CPA at: info@californiaprogressivealliance.org if interested in joining one of the groups. We invite each and every one of you to be involved in one way or another. A second annual convention is being planned.

A better California is possible and we can make it happen!

Democrats undermine renter protections

Despite statements by Gov. Gavin Newsom that he supports legislation to protect Renters the Democratic-controlled state legislature is slowly killing renter protection.

Recently, two bills were before the Assembly Housing Committee, AB 36, which would modify Costa-Hawkins and AB 1842 which would prevent rent gouging. Housing Now and ACCE both organized a strong lobbying effort to get the Committee to approve both bills

AB 36 was supposed to fulfill the promise of Democrats like Newsom who urged defeat of Prop 10 (which would have eliminated the Costa Hawkins) and supported amending the law instead. The bill originally allowed cities that wanted to apply rent control on buildings 10 years or older and single family rented homes If the landlord owned more than two in the same city. But in committee this provision was changed to 20 years or older and a landlord would have to own more than 10 single family houses in a given city before coming under any form of city-determined rent control. But even these weakenings were not enough to garner enough votes to get out of committee.

AB 1482, sponsored by Chiu and cosponsored by Bonta and Wicks, did get out of committee. It claims to prevent rent gouging. But when the final numbers were put in the bill, it allows a landlord to raise the rent 5% plus cost of living every year.  In the Bay Area that would have meant 9% this year, 17% in the last two years, and 25% in the past three years.  This might help stop an exceptionally greedy landlord in exceptional circumstances but it is hard to see how this protects many low income renters. We should not allow legislators to put this bill on their résumés as something they did for renters.

After trying unsuccessfully to meet with Democratic Housing Committee members, Housing Now and ACCE appealed to Governor’s Newsom, who previously voiced support for Costa-Hawkins reform. They wanted Newsom to intervene with the legislators who were blocking the rent control bills, and occupied the Governor’s office overnight.

[Photo: Activists wait to speak with the Governor]

Pass it on!

  • The Point Molate Alliance will be hosting a forum coming on May 19 at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. There will be music (11-12 pm) music, informational panels (12-3pm) and workshops (2-3:30pm).  Contact Tarnel Abbott (tarnelabbott@comcast.net) with questions.
  • The Asia Pacific Environmental Network is hiring! They are looking for a Lead Organizer in Richmond as well as Youth Organizer. Pass on the news and the listing!