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Guaranteed work: California commission calls for government jobs program after pandemic

Guaranteed work: California commission calls for government jobs program after pandemic

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California capitol building

The California state capitol building in Sacramento.

The Sacramento Bee is exploring the future of work in California as the state recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. The series is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.

California labor and economic leaders in a new report are calling for a "social compact" for workers, including ideas such as generating a million new jobs in clean energy and providing a federal and state jobs guarantee by 2030.

Those were few of the ideas outlined in a report published Tuesday by the state's Future of Work Commission, a group of leaders appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 to look at how California can prepare its economy for the next decade and beyond.

Its research began before the coronavirus pandemic sent the state's economy spiraling last year, a crisis that members said underscored the urgency of the commission's recommendations.

"Events of the past year have amplified and accelerated existing trends, including the inequality of wages, income and wealth," Newsom said in a statement. "By working together, California can model a new Social Compact for work and workers that can set a trajectory for the nation."

Commission members said the report provides concrete ways the state can address the rise of income inequality and help its workforce retrain for an uncertain job market. While the private sector should drive the majority of job creation, government can nurture high-quality careers and serve as a "backstop" to guarantee employment, the commission said in its report.

But questions remain as to how those proposals will be translated into policies, as well as to how the state will address the rise of new types of employment such as gig work — which went largely unmentioned in the report.

"Really, the goal of the commission was to tackle big questions with bold thinking, to do it in a way that would require multiple actors to participate," said California Labor Secretary Julie Su, a member of the commission. "Questions that have arisen because of the report are heartening to those who worked on it because the point is to spur action, spur thinking and to get lots of people in different sectors of the civil society interested."

Jobs guarantee

In its report, the commission laid out five "moonshot" goals to achieve by 2030, such as having enough jobs guaranteed for all Californians who want to work.

The commission also called for eliminating working poverty among hospitality, retail and care workers, as well as doubling the share of workers who have access to benefits such as paid time off.

The state should also create at least 1.5 new "high-quality" jobs for every one new "low-quality" job and grow the number of workers prepared for future jobs by two to three times, the commission said.

The commission laid out a variety of policy proposals to achieve those goals.

For instance, California could partner with the federal government to guarantee all Californians a job, through incentives for private sector job creation or public employment opportunities akin to the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, the commission said.

The commission also cited the New Hope Project in Milwaukee as an example, where low-income workers in the 1990s were offered community service-based full-time job opportunities as well as an income subsidy to lift them out of poverty. However, a jobs guarantee shouldn't involve work requirements for those receiving unemployment insurance, the commission said.

Those jobs should be at the quality workers "desire to build a quality life" and should be accessible "regardless of gender, race, status, background, and location," the commission said.

Such idea of a job guarantee has been gaining traction among progressives, with Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign last year specifically calling for the idea.

The commission also calls for at least 1 million new jobs in line with the state's climate goals, by providing incentives for infrastructure projects that deploy clean energy such as wind and solar. Government agencies can also partner with educational and training institutions to better train workers for clean energy jobs, the commission said.

Finally, the commission called for a pilot portable benefits platform, akin to what's available for domestic workers, as well as a working group to study ideas such as guaranteed income.

The commission said those provisions could address the growing income inequality in California, where one in three workers still earns less than $15 an hour.

While those proposals are ambitious, they are achievable, commission members said.

Su, whom President Joe Biden nominated to serve in his Labor Department, said she is excited about what the federal government can do to help make some of those ideas a reality.

"The idea is that there's only so much California acting alone is going to be able to do, so we're excited about the federal government digging into job quality, job equity and worker power and worker well-being," she said.

She said the commission also aims to have a series of events where its members can talk with leaders and community members to see how they can move those ideas forward.

Gig workers want more

Doug Bloch, a member of the commission and Teamsters Joint Council 7's political director, noted the state government has a lot of pull. California state government can use nearly $40 billion it spends every year in contracts, workforce investment and tax subsidies to reward employers who are creating high-quality jobs, he said.

Still, Bloch noted the report left some questions unanswered. There needs to be more discussions about how the state and federal government can wield power to address the consolidation of corporations, which tends to correlate to decreases in worker power, he said.

"If we want to break up power, we need to wield antitrust laws," he said.

And the report doesn't spend a lot of time discussing what the state should do for gig workers such as Uber drivers.

Still, rideshare drivers at a November meeting said they wanted the commission to take a stronger stance to support them, in light of voter-approved ballot initiative that exempts drivers for Uber, Lyft and other app-based companies from a labor law requiring companies to provide employment benefits to more workers.

"You're self congratulating and you watched all the labor get a death blow with Prop. 22," said Esterphanie St. Juste, a rideshare driver and an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United. "I don't understand how you can compliment each other when you watched this happen."


Napa County offers a more complete analysis of the 59 local deaths attributable to COVID-19, as of Feb. 9, 2021.


Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan: Fall/Winter 2020 edition

This webpage contains all Napa County coronavirus coverage as featured in the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star and The Weekly Calistogan. This page will be updated  as news comes in. Please bookmark this page to stay on top of local developments.

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