Building a Better Airport: Living wage campaign steps up this Monday

posted by Louise Auerhahn

Saturday, May 31, 2008, at

The drive for a Living Wage for all workers at Mineta San Jose International Airport is poised to move ahead on Monday, when the living wage proposal will be heard by the Transportation & Environment Committee of the San Jose City Council.

If all goes well, Monday's hearing will put the policy on track for the final step -- the full City Council -- to raise service standards at the Airport and give over five hundred workers a much-needed raise.

Below is an article on the Airport Living Wage from today's Partnership for Working Families newsletter.

Working Partnerships USA Launches Campaign to Extend Living Wage to San Jose International Airport

Last month, community, labor and faith leaders came together to call for the City of San Jose to assure that it is truly building a better airport -- by ensuring a living wage, establishing increased oversight of subcontractors, and guaranteeing the highest quality, most skilled employees serving the airport's millions of annual passengers.

Stemming from a
report by Working Partnerships USA which documented alarming security and retention challenges at Mineta San Jose International Airport, Vice Mayor Dave Cortese and Councilmember Forrest Williams asked the Council's Transportation committee to consider extending a living wage to all airport employees. The report found that over half of airport employees responding to a survey weren't trained in critical emergency procedures, such as facility evacuation. Additionally, while over half of employees earning a living wage had been at the Airport for over three years, the percentage of those earning less who remained that long was 6% or lower.

Members of the community joined elected officials in support of the policy. Pastor Kenny Foreman, of the Cathedral of Faith in Willow Glen, stated:

Our City has been richly blessed, and now should continue its leadership in maintaining the standard that has already been set; ensuring that San Jose will continue to lead the way in providing employees that serve the City a living wage -- including everyone who works at the San Jose Mineta Airport.

Wheelchair attendant Dwayne Green, an employee at the airport who earns a minimum wage, related his story, including being forced into homelessness for an inability to afford even a basic rent. "I struggled, I fought, and today I see a brighter future. For our safety, we can't afford to churn through employees," Green stated. "The City I live in and love cannot afford to lose good employees simply because they can't afford to live here, to have families."

Dr. Steven Pitts of UC Berkeley relayed the findings of a study conducted by researchers following San Francisco's application of a living wage to its airport. The study found that the living wage did not negatively impact the function of the airport, and that cost to employers was less than a penny on the dollar. In fact, due to decreases in employee turn-over, some employers saw cost savings of up to 11%.

The Living Wage campaign will be discussed at the San Jose City Council's Transportation and Environment Committee on June 2nd and will likely go before the full City Council in the fall.

Copies of the Working Partnerships report, the UC Berkeley study and event photos can be found at the campaign website:

Working Partnerships USA is a public policy and research institute that builds partnerships with community groups, labor unions, and faith based organizations to improve the lives of working families in Silicon Valley. For more information, visit the WPUSA website at

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Silicon Valley Jobs Report: Mixed Messages

posted by Louise Auerhahn

Tuesday, May 20, 2008, at

Friday's employment report for the San Jose area showed little change since last month, with employment virtually stagnant: only 100 new non-farm jobs were added in April.

The unemployment rate dropped somewhat, from its high point of 5.5% in March down to 5.2% in April, but this was mainly due to unemployed workers dropping out of the labor force.

Comparing to April of 2007 gives a slightly rosier picture. Silicon Valley added 12,100 jobs over the year, for an annual growth rate of 1.3%, up from an adjusted annual rate of 1.0% last month.

Overall, this month's job numbers give us little new information to determine how much employment in the Valley is being affected by the national recession. April is normally a slow month for job growth here, so the lack of growth this month doesn't necessarily mean the local economy has stalled. Next month's job figures are likely to shed more light.

One thing's certain: the rising cost of living, lacking a corresponding increase in wages, is hitting Silicon Valley residents hard. Yesterday, the average price for regular unleaded gasoline in San Jose officially broke $4.00/gallon.(Continued...)

Highlights of the local jobs report:

  • Compared to the previous month, the San Jose metro area added just 100 non-farm jobs in April.

    • 800 jobs were lost in educational and health services, due entirely to job declines at colleges and universities.

    • This loss was balanced by a gain of 800 jobs in leisure and hospitality, including 500 jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation and 300 jobs in food service.

    • Employment in retail trade dropped by 400 jobs, marking the fourth straight month of retail job losses.

    • The government sector added 400 jobs, including 200 jobs in local education -- growth which is unlikely to be sustained as funding for public education is cut.

  • Over the year, the San Jose metro area added 12,100 non-farm jobs, a 1.3% increase from April 2007.

  • The biggest year-over-year gains were in manufacturing (+4,200 jobs), private educational & health services (+3,100 jobs), professional and business services (+1,700 jobs), government (+1,500 jobs), information (+1,500 jobs), and trade, transportation & utilities, which includes retail (+1,500 jobs).

  • Once again, employment fell over the year in the construction and financial activities sectors due to the impacts of the housing market crash, although construction benefited somewhat from milder weather in April. The construction industry saw a decrease of 600 jobs over the year, and financial activities lost 1,200 jobs. The region also lost 500 jobs over the year in leisure & hospitality.

  • For March 2008, the unemployment rate stood at 5.2%, down 0.3 percentage points from its high in March, but up 0.7 points over the year. That translates to 7,200 more unemployed residents (by official measures) than in April 2007.

  • Seven years after the tech crash, Silicon Valley holds 131,400 fewer jobs than it did in April 2001.

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How to fight back against the middle-class squeeze? Form a union, says new study

posted by Louise Auerhahn

Thursday, May 15, 2008, at

With wages for most workers failing to keep up with the cost of living, families in Silicon Valley, California and throughout the nation are feeling the "middle-class squeeze": working hard but unable to make ends meet.

Perhaps the most at risk are families who have been squeezed right out of the middle class -- trapped in the low-wage, dead-end jobs that are increasingly becoming the only jobs available (a recent analysis concluded that only one out of every four jobs in the U.S. can be considered a "good job".)

How can a community (or a nation) reverse a trend like this, and turn its low-wage jobs back into good jobs? There's no single answer, but a new study performed by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) makes a powerful case for the wage-raising effects of one strategy: unions.

CEPR looked at five years' worth of wages for union and nonunion workers in every state, adjusting for differences in education, age, experience, gender, and race to make sure they were comparing workers with similar characteristics. They broke it down further by examining the impact of unionization on workers at different wage levels.(Continued...)

Their findings:
  • In every state and in the District of Columbia, unionization significantly improves workers' wages.

  • Nationwide, low-wage workers gain the largest benefit from joining a union. The typical union wage premium for a low-wage worker (10th percentile wage level) is 20.7 percent: the equivalent of a raise from $10.00/ $12.07/hr.

  • In California:

    • the lowest-wage workers (10th percentile) see a 16.5% wage increase from unionization;

    • middle-wage workers (50th percentile) see a 15.9% wage increase;

    • and higher-wage workers (90th percentile) see a 6.0% wage increase.

Unfortunately, joining a union isn't as easy as signing up on the dotted line. Workers who want to organize a union are usually subjected to intimidation, threats, harassment, mandatory anti-union meetings, or even being fired for speaking up (the latter is illegal, but it still happens, and even employers who get caught illegally firing employees for organizing don't face high enough penalties to be deterred.) The system currently in place, overseen by a National Labor Relations Board comprised of political appointees, is heavily slanted towards making it extremely difficult for workers to stand up for their rights while giving a free pass to unscrupulous employers, and indirectly penalizing those employers who try to treat their workers fairly and do the right thing.

Legislation currently in Congress, titled the Employee Free Choice Act, would help restore the rights that have been eroded by making it easier for a majority of employees in a workplace to form a union. Based on the findings of the CEPR study, this legislation would not only restore lost rights, but could also go a long way towards helping workers restore their eroded paychecks.

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Foreclosure sales in Silicon Valley up 585% in one year

posted by Louise Auerhahn

Tuesday, May 13, 2008, at

The April foreclosure numbers are in, and it doesn't look good. In April 2008, 1,412 Santa Clara County homeowners received Notices of Default on their mortgages, 713 got a Notice of Trustee Sale, and 500 homes went to foreclosure auction, according to ForeclosureRadar.

The latter number -- 500 foreclosure auctions, representing homeowners who were unable to sell their homes or work out any arrangement with the bank to avoid foreclosure -- grew by an astounding 585% in just the past twelve months. The foreclosure crisis is (to say the least) showing no signs of slowing.

And a look into the future: here's a map from the Federal Reserve showing the frequency of homeowners with Alt-A loans (in between subprime and prime) by zip code in Santa Clara County. Colors represent the number of Alt-A loans per 1,000 housing units; the darker the color, the more Alt-As.

The highest rates (areas in black) are zip codes 95127, 95148, and 95140 up in the east foothills / Mount Hamilton area, along with 95046 in San Martin. Most of these homeowners are still current on their payments, but 17.6% have had a late payment in the last twelve months; and as the recession deepens and home prices fall further, more families may find themselves having trouble paying the mortgage.

How did we get into such a state? The FBI and the IRS are stepping up a criminal investigation of more than a dozen mortgage companies over their lending practices and bundling of loans. Better late that never, I suppose, but more fundamental reforms are needed to restore families' security and make sure homeownership does not become an impossible dream.

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How much does it cost to raise a family in Santa Clara County?

posted by Louise Auerhahn

Friday, May 9, 2008, at

The Insight Center just released the new Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard for 2008, which lays out how much it costs to maintain a basic standard of living for workers in every county in California.

Detailed tables with the cost of living in Santa Clara County can be found here (pdf). It's expensive -- okay, no surprise there -- but the Self-Sufficiency Standard shows us just how big that gap is between the cost of basic needs and what jobs actually pay.

A single parent with two kids could be working three full-time minimum-wage jobs and still not have enough to cover housing, food, health care, child care, transportation, and other necessities. No wonder our County's safety net services are strained beyond capacity: as taxpayers, we are subsidizing the social cost of low-wage work.

The list below shows the "self-sufficiency wage" for several different household types. This is the minimum wage needed to get by in Santa Clara County if you work full-time year-round, don't get any outside assistance, and have a minimally adequate standard of living (i.e., you live in an apartment with at least one bedroom for every two people, have enough to eat, and can get medical care when you need it):

  • Single adult: $13.37/hr

  • Single adult with one infant: $23.55/hr

  • Two adults with one preschooler and one teenager (both parents working): $14.70/hr

And compare these to the median wages for some of the most common occupations in Silicon Valley:

  • Retail salespersons (25,990 employees, largest single occupation in the region): $10.98/hr

  • Office clerks (18.860 employees): $15.85/hr

  • Cashiers (17,550 employees): $9.89/hr

  • Janitors and cleaners (14,340 employees): $10.78/hr

Keep in mind that self-sufficiency only measures whether a family can support themselves right now; it doesn't allow for costs of college education, retirement savings, unemployment, or other situations for which you might need to put some money aside. Also no meals out, entertainment, or vacations. But even at that minimum standard, too many jobs simply don't pay enough for a working family to make ends meet.

Here's a breakdown of the Self-Sufficiency Standard by budget item for a two-parent family with a preschooler and a teenager:

One more key point: the Self-Sufficiency Standard assumes that all working families are covered by job-based health insurance, which is increasingly not the case. Without access to job-based coverage, health care costs in the pie chart above shoot up from $348/month to an average $943/month, adding $7,140 to a family's annual expenses.

And of course this problem isn't confined to Silicon Valley. While the Valley does have some of the highest costs in the country, workers nationwide are feeling the sting of stagnant or declining real wages. We urgently need a new national direction towards economic policies that support families and make work pay. Check out EPI's Agenda for Shared Prosperity for some good ideas on how to make this happen.

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The Merc is asking: How is the recession affecting you?

posted by Louise Auerhahn

Wednesday, May 7, 2008, at

The U.S. may not officially be in a recession yet, but with four straight months of job losses, an imploding housing market, gas at nearly $4 a gallon, and food prices spiraling up so quickly that some stores are rationing rice, most Americans don't need anyone to tell them that times are tight.

Columnist Mike Cassidy at the San Jose Mercury News wants Silicon Valley residents to tell him how the downturn is affecting their lives. Read all about it on his "Loose Ends" blog -- and send him your stories.

Some possible discussion sparkers:
  • On top of immediate strains to your household budget, how is the recession affecting you through its impacts on your neighborhood and community?

  • What fallout are you feeling from the housing market collapse and the credit crunch?

  • Do you worry about being affected by recession-inspired budget cuts to services like schools, health care, parks, libraries, public safety, and other proposed cuts?

  • In the longer term, do you see a hopeful future for your kids if they stay in Silicon Valley?

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