Labor Marks Silicon Valley City for Local Hiring, Apprenticeship Push

Photo by VIcki Thompson Ben Field, Executive Officer of the South Bay Labor Council, advocates wage and apprenticeship guidelines in Sunnyvale

Photo by VIcki Thompson
Ben Field, Executive Officer of the South Bay Labor Council, advocates wage and apprenticeship guidelines in Sunnyvale

By Nathan Donato-Weinstein
Silicon Valley Business  Journal

A labor-backed effort to boost local hiring and require the use of apprentices on private construction projects is gaining steam in Sunnyvale.

The ordinance, which passed a key hurdle on Tuesday, could hold far-reaching implications for the region’s building industry and signal the start of more such policies in Silicon Valley.

The Labor Council, along with the progressive think tank Working Partnerships, is leading the push for the rules, which have been adopted in other U.S. cities in some form. Few Bay Area communities have embraced them. The proposal’s main backer in Sunnyvale was Councilmember Jim Davis, who didn’t return a phone call last week.

The Sunnyvale ordinance would establish an official city policy position that strongly encourages developers and contractors of “major” private construction projects to hire local labor and pay prevailing wages.

While the local hiring priority would not be mandatory, another element of the emerging Sunnyvale ordinance would be: The use of apprentices, from state-approved apprenticeship programs, on the job.

That part of the ordinance would “ensure that large-scale private developments hire, employ and provide on-the-job training to apprentices,” according to meeting notes provided by the city. The detailed text of the ordinance must still be drawn up and brought back to the council for adoption at a future meeting.

Local hiring and apprentice requirements are already baked into obligations for many public projects as well as private ones receiving government financial support. But they are rarer for private projects that do not receive a public subsidy. Kevin Dayton, a government watchdog and president and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions LLC, said he’s unaware of a similar apprentice mandate in California.

Apprenticeship Designation for Bus Drivers

By Tom Fink

Ten years of work by the Valley Transportation Authority and ATU Local 265 recently culminated in a determination by the Department of Labor that Bus Driver is an occupation which requires skills worthy of formal apprenticeship. The transit agency and its front-line union achieved that goal by working together in a training partnership called Joint Workforce Investment (JWI) – established in response to a union initiative in 2005 – which satisfies the strategic goals of VTA and ATU, and meets the skill and career needs of workers:

  •  ATU seeks to link the union with the acquisition of the skills that provide family livelihood, to re-allocate union resources away from the adjudication of workplace discipline, and to firmly establish the credibility of unionized public employees.
  • VTA needs a way to elevate and maintain high standards of public service, and to train replacements for a generation of retiring employees.

Almaden bus-crop

Bus drivers have the highest visibility of any transit workers, but despite the sensitivity of their position, they have historically been taught only the safe operation of large vehicles. They’ve been left to learn the customer service aspects of the job by themselves, sink-or-swim. Many successfully meet the daunting challenges of working with the public – often after many bitter years on the learning curve – while some do not. In the case of the latter, unrelieved stress eventually results in declining health, both mental and physical, and shabby treatment of the riding public impacts the reputation of the transit system, its union workers, and of public employees in general. It is a high-profile job, and whether it is done well or poorly, its impact is political.

To begin filling the training and support gap, JWI used the example of the building trades’ apprentice programs: the best people to train new-hires are fellow workers who have mastered the craft, a worker-to-worker principle that is especially important in an industry like mass transit where the working environment has a besieged, front line quality. That’s why we began a Bus Driver mentoring program in 2009. Every driver since that time has had the benefit of a master-driver mentor whose guidance was supplemented by classroom instruction. The insights gained through the mentor program provided the DOL with part of the framework it used in its apprenticeship determination.

The second guiding principle that public sector unions can learn from the building trades is that the most secure anchor for solidarity is the work itself. The enforcement of worker’s rights under the banner of an injury to one is an injury to all has been one of our movement’s most consuming activities. Well-intentioned, we used a mid-twentieth century point-of-production grievance template in a way that made many public sector unions seem little more than legal aid societies, and we defended work habits and behavior often unacceptable even to our own members. We have not been careful to discern what constitutes an injury, and it has undermined our credibility.

Our primary strategic challenge in this post-Reagan/Thatcher era is defense of what it has taken over a century of struggle to achieve: a social safety net and a robust public sector. The Right’s campaign to weaken the safety net, and to undermine and privatize the public sector cannot be countered by political struggle alone. Voters and taxpayers must be convinced, based on real experience, that publicly owned and operated enterprises are safe, reliable, and efficient, and that public employee unions add value in  value-add ??in the delivery of vital services.

JWI’s achievement of an official apprenticeship program for bus drivers is a significant first step toward re-making our movement into one credible enough to attract allies and secure the loyalty of our members.

Tom Fink, VTA bus driver for 25 years and founder and director emeritus of JWI.

Sunnyvale Must Pass Local Hiring Ordinance


High tech is booming in Silicon Valley. But we all know that far too many people are being left behind by this boom, as rents soar, poverty-level jobs expands and the inequality gap widens.

Recognizing this challenge, last November the Sunnyvale City Council took a step towards addressing the growing divide by agreeing to develop a local hiring and economic opportunity ordinance to ensure that the construction of new mega-developments is creating living-wage jobs for our communities.

But the draft policy coming back to City Council on Tuesday does none of these things. Instead of requiring mega-developments to outreach locally and hire entry-level apprentices, it suggests that the City merely “encourage local developers and contractors…to make outreach efforts”.

Why? The staff memo claims that a local hiring program “is unnecessary in light of an economy characterized by low unemployment.”

Really? In a region with the highest cost of living and the largest homeless encampments in the United State, where black and Latino youth can’t find decent jobs, at the same time that developers are hiring out-of-town workers to drive hundreds of miles each day to work at construction sites – providing job and career opportunities for local residents is “unnecessary”?

Your voice is needed to tell City Council and the City Manager that shared prosperity is necessary.

Join us Tuesday, May 19 at 7 pm to call for the Sunnyvale City Council to:

•             Ensure that large-scale private developments employ local apprentices so that young people have the opportunity to enter a construction career;

•             Ask large-scale private developments to provide job and wage projections and an outreach plan for local hiring as part of their permit applications; and

•             For projects involving sale or lease of public land, or public subsidies, also require that jobs on those projects pay area standard wages so that workers can afford to live in the community.

Noisy Rally Against Wage Theft Descends on Downtown San Jose

Labor Council  Executive Officer Ben Field speaks to demonstrators at a rally against wage theft in San Jose Wednesday, May 13.  Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez (left) support the cause

Labor Council Executive Officer Ben Field speaks to demonstrators at a rally against wage theft in San Jose Wednesday, May 13. Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez (left) supports the cause

SAN  JOSE -Demonstrators targeted tech company contractor Universal Protective Services at a spirited rally against wage theft in downtown San Jose.  Security officers, janitors, elected officials and labor leaders joined in the protest of UPS, which is accused of wage theft and retaliation against workers who want to improve conditions for employees at the company.

In remarks to the crowd, Ben Field, Executive Officer of the South Bay Labor Council, said “If a company steals 1.7 million dollars from their workers, is that enough for us to demand change?  It’s enough!”

Security officers throughout Silicon Valley are leading a fight to lift up all service employees who work in the shadows of the Valley’s success. Many service workers not only face increasing housing costs and low wages, but also wage theft.

Universal Protection Services (UPS) is one of the largest security contractors in California, yet it’s holding its workers back from sharing in the prosperity of Silicon Valley. Since 2008, UPS has paid out over $1.7 million in class action wage theft settlements.

Demonstrators rally against wage theft in downtown San Jose

Demonstrators rally against wage theft in downtown San Jose


“Every time I open up the program to see my paycheck, I have a knot in the pit of my stomach. I wonder how wrong it’s going to be this time,” said Brianna Morris, a former San Jose UPS officer.

Michael Johnson recently lost his security position at Broadcom, a UPS client, after he spoke out on behalf of organizing fellow officers to join a union.

Silicon Valley Rising is a long term campaign to lift up working families in Silicon Valley by improving wages, housing conditions and corporate responsibility among tech companies.  SVR engages in these demonstrations as part of that campaign.

Jesse Jackson Joins Labor Council and USWW Rally for Wronged Worker

Labor Council Executive Officer Ben Field speaks to supporters of wrongly-fired security officer Michael Johnson outside the offices of Broadcom Corporation Tuesday

Labor Council Executive Officer Ben Field speaks to supporters of wrongly-fired security officer Michael Johnson outside the offices of Broadcom Corporation Tuesday

SANTA CLARA - A rally in support of wrongly fired Universal Protection Services security officer Michael  Johnson, drew the support of the Reverend  Jesse Jackson and other union, faith and community supporters.  Johnson, who worked at Broadcom as a contractor for two years, was fired after organizing 75% of the other security officers into agreeing to form a union.  UPS let Johnson go reportedly on the demand of Broadcom, after the company  discovered Johnson was trying to organize workers for a union.  This, despite the fact that during the time he worked there, John received 2 pay raises and a promotion.  UPS offered Johnson another position with less predictable hours and $6 less an hour in pay.  He declined that offer in favor of trying to get his regular  job back.

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May Day March 2015

By David Louie
ABC 7 News

With its large immigrant community, the South Bay has traditionally been vocal about the rights of workers and of pay issues. Groups formed at several locations in East San Jose. The largest were at the corner of Story and King Roads, where elected officials were joined by labor leaders to rally. The usual labor groups, immigration reform advocates, and elected officials turned out to give impassioned speeches. Participants say there has never been more urgency for a May Day gathering as economic, labor and immigration issues converge. They think the rally and march send out an important message. Nancy Contreras, a San Jose State senior, brought her four sisters and brother to the rally because of immigration reform and the escalating cost of living.

“This is one of the most expensive cities in the country to live in and yet we get paid $10 an hour. That’s not enough to support whole families like all of these kids. There are so many kids in our family, and sometimes $10 an hour doesn’t cut it,” said Contreras.

It’s an issue that labor leaders are focusing on. “If we continue to have one-third of the households here unable to support themselves, that’s a huge drain on the local economy,” said Ben Field with the South Bay Labor Council.

Participants hope that there is growing awareness that the Bay Area economy is making it more difficult for low-wage earners to reach middle class status. “The wages that are being paid do not make up for what it costs to live here. In Redwood City, the 2,000 apartments they built, a one bedroom is $2,800. Nobody’s making that on $10 an hour,” said Tom Linbarger, a local resident.

A new element to this May Day rally is inclusion of the message made popular by the hashtag “Black Lives Matter.” It’s a show of solidarity with events in Baltimore and in Ferguson. Some reports indicate that this year’s crowd is a bit smaller this year than in the past.

May Day originally started as a pagan ritual celebrating the start of summer. In the 19th century, labor movements starting using May Day as a day to recognize workers’ rights.

Workers Memorial Day Breakfast Breaks Ground on Subcontracted Workers

motherjonesOn April 28 we recommit to the continuing struggle to create good jobs in Silicon Valley that protect the health and safety of workers and pay fair wages.  We recommit to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through those unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a secure future.

Forty years after Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, promising every worker the right to a safe job, there is still work to be done to protect workers on the job. Some employers cut corners and violate the law, putting workers in serious danger.  Workers who report job hazards or injuries, in some cases, are fired or disciplined.  Some employers who contract out dangerous work try to avoid responsibility and as a result, each year thousands of workers are killed and millions more injured or diseased as a result of their work.

In observance of Workers Memorial Day 2015, the South Bay Labor Council will host a breakfast discussion on the status of job safety among subcontracted workers.  Panelists will discuss current conditions, laws, and what we can all do to make jobs safer for temporary, or contracted workers in Silicon Valley.

To attend the breakfast discussion Tuesday, April 28 at 9 a.m., RSVP to  The event will be held at 2102 Almaden Road, San Jose.

Make an Impact on How Your Taxes Are Spent


The South Bay Labor Council encourages you to get involved in the decisions concerning  your tax dollars.  Throughout the month of May, the City of San Jose is holding community budget meetings in every City Council District. The purpose of these meetings is to inform residents about the City’s fiscal situation and potential budget impacts. They also provide an opportunity for residents to provide input on the budget directly to City leaders. 

San Jose residents are welcome to attend any of these meetings. Find the schedule HERE.