Latino Labor in the New Economy
Rep. Linda Sanchez (CA-39) began the workshop by posing the question of how to succeed in the Latino community in spite of vast unemployment. Her message was centered on needing to promote policies "that put working families first. "
The first panelist, Yvette Pena Lopes, Director of Legislation and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Blue Green Alliance, disputed rhetoric that maintains environmental regulations necessarily cost us jobs. She gave an example of the Weatherization Assistance Program, which saves families' utility bills and simultaneously provides union jobs with apprenticeship opportunities. She emphasized that we need to find solutions for increasing public health, bettering the environment, and adding jobs for the Latino community, which has been the hardest hit by unemployment declines.
Bill Farmer, Acting President of Cerritos College, described efforts on behalf of his Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) university through Project Hope to increase the Latino presence in the health care professions.
Jody Calemine of the House Education and Labor Committee continued the conversation, arguing that we should focus on getting Latinos unionized, as union workers make an average of 30% more and usually have more and better benefits. There are barriers; significantly, 80% of workers think they'll be fired if they join or start a union. The recently introduced Employee Free Choice Act tries to remedy this by fining employers who fire someone for joining a union and provides for first contract mediation and arbitration.
One of our own CHCI Graduate Fellows, Jorge Madrid, kicked off the question and answer portion, asking about strategies that offset the cost of hiring workers in order to pay them living wages. Pena Lopes responded that if we have mandatory regulations, new opportunities would arise and create jobs that have such standards.
Rep Sanchez ended with a strong point about how the decline of the automobile industry was largely blamed on the notion that workers demanded too much in healthcare and benefits, while the decline of Wall Street was never widely blamed on the benefit demands of its executives or employees. She noted that there is a class divide in the way we see issues of employment and benefits.