Working Partnerships USA was formed in 1995 in response to a growing concern about the increasing disconnect between Silicon Valley's rapidly expanding economy and the low wages and economic insecurity experienced by large sectors of the workforce. Community-based organizations came together with local labor unions and communities of faith to create a new organization that would develop institutional and public policy responses to the negative impacts of the New Economy on working families. The name "Working Partnerships USA" reflected three priorities: a focus on building power for working families, a commitment to accomplishing our goals through broad partnerships with all sectors of the community, and a vision of developing local models that could be replicated by other communities facing similar problems throughout the United States.

With Amy Dean as the founding Executive Director, in its first year Working Partnerships succeeded in bringing accountability to the county's giveaway of more than $3 million in corporate property tax rebates. The publication of Shock Absorbers in the Flexible Economy in 1996 saw the beginning of our long-term focus on analyzing the impact of the New Economy on workers. Shock Absorbers was followed in 1998 by Growing Together or Drifting Apart?, a status report on economic well-being in Silicon Valley that called attention to the growing divide between rich and poor in the region; the following year, Walking the Lifelong Tightrope took a broader look at the increasing insecurity facing workers throughout California.

Our initial organizing and advocacy efforts brought home the need to form more permanent alliances and relationships amongst progressive organizations in the South Bay, as well as a need for developing leadership and organizing skills in marginalized and emerging constituencies. In 1997, Working Partnerships USA partnered with San Jose State University to launch the Labor/Community Leadership Institute (now the Working Partnerships Leadership Network), an eight-week course that brought together community leaders, neighborhood activists, union members, clergy, and local elected officials to analyze economic problems and learn how to advocate for solutions. In the same year, progressive South Bay clergy came together under Working Partnerships' aegis to form The Interfaith Council on Religion, Race, Economic and Social Justice, a network that engaged clergy and laity in nurturing a progressive faith-based voice in support of local workers.

To further build relationships and develop a vision for what we collectively could work to achieve in the South Bay, Working Partnerships convened a series of roundtable discussions, known as the Community Blueprint process, that brought together more than 400 community leaders over three years. Out of the initial discussions emerged the need for a living wage for the region's workers. In June 1998 Working Partnerships USA analyzed the policy's potential impacts in the publication Living Wage: An Opportunity for San Jose. After a massive organizing drive, the City Council passed a Living Wage Ordinance applying to city staff and contractors by an 8-3 vote, setting the highest wage yet in the nation and including groundbreaking provisions to protect workers' rights.

Following the Living Wage victory and our research into the problems created by contingent work, an ad-hoc committee of temps, most of them women, approached Working Partnerships USA to develop solutions to their common issues and challenges. Through a series of meetings, the temporary workers and Working Partnerships developed a Code of Conduct for temporary agencies and laid the groundwork for the establishment of a temporary worker organization, the Working Partnerships Membership Association. As the ranks of the Membership Association grew, Working Partnerships was able to implement practical solutions to several of the challenges the temps identified; we offered classes in computers, basic math and other needed occupational skills, and partnered with Kaiser Permanente to develop an affordable health insurance product that covered more than 3,000 contingent workers and family members. During the same period, Working Partnerships USA built a model high-road staffing agency, the Working Partnerships Staffing Service, which demonstrated that a temp agency could pay a living wage and provide pathways to permanent work while still offering competitive rates to its clients.

The Living Wage experience also provided an impetus to continue and expand our convenings of local constituencies, leading to the completed Community Blueprint: a roadmap for regional equity identifying the issues and policy initiatives at the top of working families' agenda. The first Blueprint policy priority undertaken was the Children's Heath Initiative; in partnership with the community group PACT, we designed and won passage of the first county-wide universal children's health insurance program in the nation. To date, the pioneering CHI model has brought health coverage to over 121,000 kids in our region and been replicated in seventeen California counties. Following CHI, we focused on three other key areas identified in the Blueprint - public transportation, affordable housing, and accountable development - building new relationships and achieving significant victories in both.

In 2003 Working Partnerships USA entered a time of transition and expansion, as new executive director Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins took the helm. In the changing post-2001 environment of Silicon Valley, working people in the region faced new challenges; Working Partnerships responded by building new alliances and creating innovative policy solutions, such as the Team San Jose collaborative that preserved secure union jobs at the Convention Center while bringing more business to downtown and turning around the Center's finances. After an extensive review and evaluation of our Leadership Institute, the redesigned and expanded LeaderNet was launched in 2005, alongside a new program to keep Institute graduates engaged. At the same time, the work of The Interfaith Council took on new meaning with the surging national emphasis on the role of faith, religion, and social values in political and policy debates.

During this period we began to think about broader connections, reaching out to allies across the state and nation to expand the geographic impact of our work. The Interfaith Council joined with sister organizations to create the new statewide interfaith network Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice of California (CLUE-CA). Working Partnerships USA became involved in efforts to expand the Children's Health Initiative across all California. After repeatedly running up against Byzantine state restrictions in our local government reform efforts, we joined three partner groups in initiating the Tax and Fiscal Policy Project to reform the state fiscal system. Finally, Working Partnerships co-founded the nationwide Partnership for Working Families, a network dedicated to supporting the growth of strong progressive coalitions in local regions throughout the country.

Working Partnerships USA has come a long way since 1995. We have crafted new policy initiatives on issues from health care to construction, run successful campaigns to change policy, developed a broad and deep network of alliances, and begun to transform the way working people think about growth, economic development, and their own community involvement in Silicon Valley. With these achievements and experience to guide us, WPSUA and our diverse set of allies and constituents have begun moving beyond a crisis perspective to focus on long-term structural change that empowers working people and their communities.

  • Community, faith, and labor organizations in Santa Clara County jointly found Working Partnerships USA, with the leadership of Executive Director Amy Dean.
  • First successful Working Partnerships USA policy initiative establishes accountability standards for recipients of Santa Clara County tax subsidies.
1996 1998 1999 2000
  • Over 400 stakeholders complete multi-year Community Blueprintprocess, setting future policy agenda for Working Partnerships USA.
2001 2002 2003 2004
  • Team San Jose formed; wins bid to operate the San Jose Convention Center and Cultural Facilities.
  • Incentive plan approved that paves the way for high-rise apartments to be built in downtown while raising funds for affordable housing.
  • Living wage won for contractors at the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
2005 2006
  • VTA RIDE Task Force launched to provide a community voice in public transport policy discussions.
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