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A Minimum Wage Ordinance is Coming to Berkeley

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By Harry Brill

On Tuesday, June 10, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to enact Berkeley’s first minimum wage law that covers the vast majority of employees who work in city.

There is a much narrower living wage ordinance enacted in the year 2000, but it benefits a very small number of employees – no more than 200 – who work for businesses contracting with the city or that are located on Berkeley city property.

The current measure, to become law, requires a second vote by the City Council members, which will be on June 24.

Here is what working people gain. On Oct. 1 of this year, the minimum wage will become $10 an hour. It will rise on Oct. 1, 2015 to $11 an hour, and will peak on Oct. 1, 2016 at $12.53.

It is an immensely important victory because it establishes the principle that the City of Berkeley, and not just the state or federal governments, has a responsibility to improve the standard of living of working people.

It will certainly put more bread on the table for the city’s low-wage workers and their families. Although we are delighted about our victory, we are also mindful that the minimum wage measure is short of what we wanted.

After a year of hard work the City’s Labor Commission, whose members are all appointed by the City Council, submitted a proposal that would include an annual cost of living increase along with an annual wage increase that would eventually exceed $15 an hour.

Moreover, a higher minimum wage would apply to large firms, which could afford to pay more. None of these recommendations were accepted by the majority of council members.

Although wages for many who work in Berkeley will climb substantially, certain provisions have been included that the minimum wage activists are not happy about. The council added a one-year exemption for non-profits, no matter how large they are or how much its executives are paid.

Also, young people who are being trained will not receive minimum wages. Although this sounds innocent enough, it is worrisome. The record shows that in many instances there is no training at all.

Often there is little or no enforcement.

Also, although one council member expressed his disappointment that a sick leave provision is absent in the proposed ordinance, this issue was not taken up. The minimum wage initiative in Oakland, which voters will vote on in November, includes paid sick leave.

It is essential not only for those who become ill. Co-workers don’t want to be exposed, and people who are dining out in restaurants do not want food prepared and served by sick employees who are contagious. Not providing paid sick leave is a hole that has to be filled.

So what is next? Mayor Tom Bates has proposed after the second, confirming vote on the minimum wage issue that a task force be established to consider amendments to the ordinance that was just voted on. In fact, he mentioned that the issue of paid sick leave should be considered. Our regret, though, is that a new task force will bypass the highly progressive Labor Commission

Among the important gains in the struggle to win higher wages for low wage workers is that we have been successfully building a broad based political infrastructure that includes a wide array of organizations and many devoted and skilled organizers who will remain active for the coming months and years.

And this infrastructure makes it possible to reach the large numbers of progressive individuals who live in Berkeley. Not least, the struggle for higher wages by persuading legislative bodies or by developing ballot initiatives has become a national movement.

This has made it much more difficult for political officials to ignore the minimum wage issue. Far more important, a power base is being built both locally and nationally that has compelled many political leaders to take us seriously.

The victory in Berkeley is one of many examples that they are already beginning to do so.

 

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Bay Area

County prepares to update long-term plans to meet needs and state mandates

Marin must plan for future population growth by state law, right along with the other 57 counties in California and all the state’s cities and towns. As part of the next required planning cycle, the County is eager to increase fair housing opportunities for people of all income levels, races and backgrounds.

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The Housing Element update is intended to help the County achieve an adequate supply of decent, safe, and affordable housing for residents living in unincorporated areas.
The Housing Element update is intended to help the County achieve an adequate supply of decent, safe, and affordable housing for residents living in unincorporated areas.

Marin County is in the midst of updating its Housing and Safety Elements, plans to accommodate future housing needs and address climate change. Starting this month, staff from the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) is seeking input on sites to accommodate the growing housing need in the unincorporated areas of the County. An online public meeting is set for Jan. 20 to go over the process and gather feedback.

The Housing Element update gives the County a chance to make marked progress with racial and social equity. Lower-income residents in the local workforce struggle to find suitable affordable housing close to their Marin jobs. Almost two-thirds of Marin workers commute in from other counties because of local high housing costs, and that takes a toll on traffic, the environment, and quality of life for everyone.

Marin must plan for future population growth by state law, right along with the other 57 counties in California and all the state’s cities and towns. As part of the next required planning cycle, the County is eager to increase fair housing opportunities for people of all income levels, races and backgrounds.

A master list of all potential new housing locations under consideration in unincorporated Marin was released during the online public meeting Jan. 20.

In spring 2021, the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) set by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) directed Marin to plan for 3,569 new housing units in unincorporated areas during the eight-year cycle that begins in 2023. Those must be distributed among all income categories, from very low to above moderate.

Parcels have been identified as potential housing sites in all areas of the unincorporated County. Land owned by schools, houses of worship, businesses, nonprofits, and the county government is all open for consideration. While housing is allowed in almost all local zoning districts, including commercial, the update to the Housing Element does not exclude potential changes to the maximum density under the existing zoning.

“Public feedback will be a key component of the plan’s development,” said Jillian Nameth Zeiger, a CDA senior planner. “We are introducing the full range of possibilities and asking people their thoughts about meeting the RHNA goal by using these properties. No major decisions have been made at this point. It will be a challenge to meet the allocation, and we want to collect as much public feedback as possible.”

CDA plans to document the feedback and summarize it when the Housing Element update is brought back to the Marin County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissioners in early March. The Housing Element, along with the accompanying Safety Element, needs to be completed by the end of 2022 so it can be submitted to the State of California for approval.

Zeiger said the shortage of affordable housing has grown more pronounced since the state approved Marin’s last Housing Element update in January 2014. The local median home price has risen from approximately $1.2 million in 2017 to more than $1.6 million in 2021. During the same span, few housing units for the lowest income levels have been constructed.

With the Housing Element update, the intent is to achieve an adequate supply of decent, safe, and affordable housing for residents in unincorporated areas, including individuals, families, retirees, and special-needs populations. One of the major changes to the new Housing Element requirement includes meeting new steps to ensure fair housing and address historical patterns of segregation. Accordingly, the next Housing Element will include an assessment of fair housing to address barriers to fair housing choice and will identify sites and programs that provide housing opportunity for lower-income families and individuals near high quality schools, employment opportunities, and public transportation.

The consequences of noncompliance with housing requirements could be stiff. If a jurisdiction does not meet its goals, it becomes ineligible for state funding to serve local transportation needs and may be subject to statewide streamlining rules, which allow for housing development with limited public review process. California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has a new division that is designed to enforce accountability with plans to meet housing needs.

Related initiatives under the fair housing program include the Restrictive Covenants Project, which aims to inform and educate Marin residents of the history and significance of government policies and programs that were intentionally discriminatory and helped create segregated areas.

CDA staff is engaging in community discussions, speaking at local homeowners associations meetings and design review boards. Trusted community-based organizations, elected officials, and other advocates will help convey messaging about the Housing Element update during the engagement process. Questions and comments can be emailed to staff and phone inquiries can be made to (415) 473-6269. Regular updates can be found on the Housing and Safety Elements update webpage.

Many residents live near town limits or city limits and might be interested in plans brewing across the nearby border. For that reason, there is a new website that includes news about Housing Element updates in all of Marin’s municipalities.

Check out housingelementsmarin.org to learn more.

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Bay Area

Oakland Healthcare Unions Denounce CDC and California’s New Guidelines

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

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Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.
Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Two unions representing healthcare professionals have denounced recent moves by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The California Department of Public Health that have eased, or in some cases temporarily eliminated, quarantining guidelines for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been directly exposed to the virus.

“Part of why there’s this rise in transmission is that people aren’t quite well and they’re able to come out and mingle with the public,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez in an interview. Triunfo-Cortez has worked as a registered nurse for 42 years, and she’s the president of National Nurses United (NNU), a registered nurses’ union with over 175,000 members.

On December 22 of last year, as news that the CDC was considering shortening their COVID-19 quarantine duration guidelines from 10 days to five days was spreading, the NNU published an open letter to the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, that urged her to maintain the 10-day quarantine period.

“Weakening COVID-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating COVID-19 surge yet,” the letter reads, “will only result in further transmission, illness and death.”

On December 23, the CDC changed their guidelines for healthcare workers. To address staffing shortages, the new guidelines stated that medical facilities could have both vaccinated and unvaccinated healthcare workers who test positive for the virus return to their jobs immediately without quarantining in certain crisis situations as long as they were either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

On December 27, the CDC changed their guidelines for the rest of the population, shortening the quarantining period from 10 to five days. The new guidelines stated that as long as a COVID-positive person has no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they don’t have a fever, they can end their quarantine on the sixth day.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of [COVID-19] transmission occurs early in the course of the illness,” reads a statement from the CDC about the reduced quarantine guideline, “generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after.”

In their letter, the NNU pointed to the extremely contagious Omicron variant, and warned “Now is not the time to relax protections.” They mentioned pressure from businesses to maintain profits “without regard for science or the health of employees or the public” as the primary motivation for shortening the quarantine time. The letter included a link to a story about Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian asking the CDC to consider such a change.

Data from Alameda County, and California show that after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to become widespread in mid-December, local and statewide cases surged. By late December, average daily case rates were higher than they ever had been before.

Hospitalizations also rose sharply. Then cases and hospitalizations continued to rise through early January and have continued to rise. At the time of publication, information on recent COVID-19 deaths is unclear as the county and the state are updating that data.

“It’s stressful because some of our co-workers might be coming into work sick,” said Sonya Allen-Smith in an interview on January 7 about working under the new guidelines. She’s been an X-ray technologist at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Oakland for 13 years and is a member of the SEIU UHW union for healthcare workers.

“We think about if we’re going to take it home to our families,” she said. “My husband’s immune system is compromised. If I bring it home to him, he definitely will not make it.”

The Oakland Post obtained a flow chart Kaiser e-mailed to their employees on January 7 that guided them through the quarantine process the company required them to enter into if they tested positive for COVID-19.

It showed Kaiser employees had to quarantine for five days and could return on the sixth day if they tested negative for the virus with an antigen test. Allen-Smith said she felt the quarantine period was too short.

“We’re not giving people enough time to heal or recover,” Allen-Smith said. “Weakening the guidelines is not going to stop the staff shortage. It may increase it because people will spread it.”

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that they’re “implementing CDC and CDHP guidance and isolation with considerations to vaccination status and staffing levels.” It also stated that “all employees coming back or continuing to work, wear the appropriate PPE and follow all infection prevention measures.”

On January 8, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) decided to temporarily adopt the guidance for healthcare workers the CDC had released on December 23 to address staffing shortages at healthcare facilities.

“From January 8, 2022 until February 1, 2022, healthcare professionals who test positive for [COVID-19] and are asymptomatic,” reads their statement announcing the new guidelines, ”may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing.”

The statement also said such returning employees would have to wear N95 masks while working and that these new guidelines could again change as information becomes available.

Both the NNU and the SEIU-UHW unions immediately denounced CDHP’s decision.

“For healthcare workers on the frontline it is very disappointing to see the State of California bypass common sense safety measures,” said Gabe Montoya, an emergency room technician, in a statement SEIU-UHW released. “No patient wants to be cared for by someone who has COVID-19 or was just exposed to it.”

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

When asked for a statement about their Bay Area healthcare facilities, Sutter Health’s media team wrote an email stating: “Consistent with CDC contingency tiered guidelines released in late December, and in response to critical staffing conditions, we have revised our process for how employees who work at patient care sites return after they have been sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. It’s important to note that symptomatic employees are not returning to work until their symptoms improve.”

When asked directly if asymptomatic COVID positive employees were currently returning to work, Sutter Health’s media team did not respond.

When asked about their current COVID-19 quarantine policies, Alameda Health System’s media and communications manager Eleanor Ajala wrote “Alameda Health System is reviewing guidance” and that they planned to attend a meeting with the state to discuss the issue.

On January 11, Allen-Smith said she hadn’t heard of any change to Kaiser Permanente’s quarantine policy, but that she knows three co-workers sick with COVID-19 who had just returned after five-day quarantines.

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that to address staffing shortages they were “employing traveling nurses, adjusting elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures as needed, and offering our industry-leading telehealth capabilities in addition to in-person care.”

The media team did not directly answer when asked if Kaiser was allowing asymptomatic COVID positive employees to return to the job at Bay Area healthcare facilities.

Allen-Smith is unhappy about the guidelines changing and is unsure if Kaiser’s policy will further change in the near future due to CDHP’s recent announcement.

“A lot of us are confused and sad and just don’t feel safe in the workplace,” she said.

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Alton Thomas Stiles

Booster Shot Required to Battle Omicron Variant Effectively, Gov. Newsom Says

“After our kids have enjoyed the holiday with family and friends … we want to make sure they come back in as good a shape as they left meaning we want to make sure that we are testing our kids and preparing them to come back to in-person instruction,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom.

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@CaliforniaBlac2 @tommyofasgard @BlackPressUSA @NNPA_BlackPress @GavinNewsom @CaliforniaDep11
Omicron’s swift spread alarms experts who are encouraging Californians to get vaccine booster shots.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Last week, speaking at a press conference at the Native American Health Center in Oakland, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that Californians will have to take booster shots as the state adopts new COVID-19 measures to fight the Omicron variant.

He specified that California healthcare workers will be required to get booster shots by Feb. 1, 2022.

“There is nothing more important when we’re experiencing a surge in growth of case rates than protecting our frontline heroes and employees, and that’s why we led as the first state in the nation to require all healthcare workers to be vaccinated,” Newsom said.

He pointed out, “that led to extraordinarily high vaccination rates for our healthcare workers, kept staff working, kept the morale strong and kept their immunity strong. But we recognize now that just being vaccinated, fully vaccinated, is not enough with this new variant. We believe it is important to extend this requirement to getting that third dose.”

Newsom also announced that the state will be ordering 6 million free home tests for children in school.

The governor said the state is also ratcheting up its efforts to keep kids safe and schools open.

“We will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities by making at-home testing kits available to every K-12 public school student as they head back to the classroom from winter break,” Newsom continued.

At the press conference, Newsom made clear his intention to continue in-person schooling.

“After our kids have enjoyed the holiday with family and friends … we want to make sure they come back in as good a shape as they left meaning we want to make sure that we are testing our kids and preparing them to come back to in-person instruction,” Newsom said.

In addition, the governor announced that the state will be extending hours of operations for testing sites.

He said California has over 6,000 testing sites, about 30% of all the nation’s testing sites.

“California continues to lead,” Newsom said. “As of today, we have the lowest positivity rate in America.”

As of Sunday, December 26, California had a 5.4% test positivity rate for the last eight days. That number is up about 2.4% from the last week, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

“We continue to lead the nation in terms of administered doses of the vaccine and we continue to do more than most other states in promoting not only the safety and efficacy of our vaccines but promoting boosters,” he continued.

The CDPH reports that 78.9 % of all Californians have been vaccinated.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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