Earlier this year when employees represented by the San Bernardino Public Employees Association voted to affiliate with Teamsters Local 1932, those familiar with the history of labor relations in San Bernardino County speculated about the long-term effect of a more powerful union taking on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors as well as city councils and other governing boards around the county and, in some instances, reaching into Riverside and Los Angeles counties. They are about to find out if the difference will be real.
Teamsters Local 1932 is holding a rally on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, from 10 a.m. until 12 noon at the Ontario Convention Center. The headliner is California State Treasurer John Chiang. Chiang is best known for refusing to pay state legislators when they did not pass a balanced state budget on time in his former position as State Controller. He also refused to pay state workers minimum wage when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered it.
Also speaking will be San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, who will be discussing the nexus between low wages and crime. Several other local leaders are also expected to speak.
The rally is meant to serve two purposes. First, it is in support of San Bernardino County general employees who are about to go to the bargaining table for an economic reopener. Yesterday, one San Bernardino County executive chuckled at the idea as county leaders do not believe county employees have the wherewithal to take on county leaders. County executives expect the attendance to be low.
County arrogance aside, perhaps the most important purpose of the rally will be to provide the Teamsters with an opportunity to lay out their vision of the economic and political realities that will dictate long-term labor relations in the region. County electeds have not experienced real political action in more than a decade.
Teamsters Joint Council 42 Organizing Director Randy Korgan said in a phone interview that the union has conducted extensive research into the reasons for lower income and standards of living in the Inland Empire. Although the issues are complex, much of disparity can be traced back to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and numerous city councils that literally gave away billions of dollars in taxpayer’s money in the form of infrastructure improvements and other incentives to corporations wanting to relocate in the area for cheap labor and cheap land.
In other words, our elected leaders spent billions of dollars to attract employers who only hire part-time, temporary employees, thus adding to economic distress and, often times, urban and suburban blight that has hit even newer subdivisions in the county. Korgan used the example of development at the former Norton Air Force Base.
At Norton, on one side of the street there is Stater Bros. and UPS. On the other side is Mattel. Stater Bros. and UPS provide a full-time living wage with health and other benefits for their employees. Mattel hires mostly part-time, temporary employees with no benefits, which is similar to what most of the warehouses pay that local governments are attracting to the area. He said Stater Bros. and UPS pay almost three times what Mattel pays.
Korgan went on to say that the union is not against counties and municipalities paying for infrastructure and incentives for companies to relocate to the area if those companies pay a living wage with benefits that add to the economic health of the region. Unfortunately, he says, for the past three decades or more local governments have opted to attract companies that bring only low-paying jobs that keep the local economy deflated and the local labor force eligible for government subsidies such as Section 8, food stamps, child care assistance and Medi-Cal.
The County of San Bernardino itself pays less than surrounding counties for many jobs. Many full-time county employees are paid so little that they too are eligible for welfare benefits in addition to their county paychecks. It is a culture of poverty supported and promoted by county and municipal officials who don’t have the vision to see the impact of their short-sighted decisions.
And it is that “culture of poverty” way of thinking the Teamsters plan to change. Korgan says if county and city administrators and elected leaders are unwilling to shift their priorities to growing the local economy through living wages, the union is prepared to remove those elected and replace them with leaders who want the area to prosper.
Members of all Teamsters locals are encouraged to attend the rally. Elected leaders from around the county will be on hand to hear your concerns and discuss their vision for the future of the Inland Empire.
The Ontario Convention Center is located at 2300 East Convention Way, Ontario, Calif. For more information check out SBPEA Teamsters Local 1932 Facebook page.