Recap of the 6th annual CARA convention

By Carol Garvey, Retired Member Committee Chair, Santa Clara County Chapter

The CARA (California Alliance for Retired Americans) 2009 Convention was attended by SEIU Local 521 retirees Gary Linsner from Fresno and Carol Garvey from San Jose from Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009 to Wednesday Oct. 21, 2009. Dolores Manning from Santa Cruz had also been approved to go but cancelled a week before the event due to personal difficulties. Gary Linsner drove to the Convention from Fresno and I (Carol Garvey) flew directly from San Jose on Tuesday morning. Many thanks to Kelly Ferguson for making such great airline reservations. Southwest got me to the Convention with time to spare before its start and plenty of time to catch my return flight after the Rite-Aid picketing action, which ended the Convention on Wednesday.

To cut costs the usual 2-day Convention activity was jam-packed into twenty-four hours. Labor, political, health care reformers and social justice activists expressed an overarching theme of unity as they described the state’s dire fiscal reality while suggesting possible solutions at least at the state level. The two main workshops provided current, valuable information that we can use now.

Health care reform is CARA’s number one priority (as voted by its members). Therefore Workshop 1, entitled “Health Care Reform: State and National Strategies”, was devoted entirely to detailing efforts to win health care reform, specifically single payer health care at the state levels, and the Public Option nationally. Panelists were:

 Geri Jenkins, President CNA
 Sara Rogers, Consultant to Sen. Mark Leno, and
 Cindy Young, CSEA

Here are Geri Jenkins’ prescient comments on the Public Option:
“If the Public Option isn’t a strong one it will become a dumping ground for the sickest citizens and the insurance industry will ‘cherry pick’ the ‘best’ patients. We should have defined this as a ‘civil rights’ issue right from the start.”
Similarly, the only way to protect Medicare is to insure that everyone has what Assembly member Tom Ammiano (San Francisco) terms “from sperm to worm” Medicare coverage.

Workshop 2, “Taking Back the Budget and the State in 2010”, was moderated by Tom Rankin from the California Labor Federation. This panel consisted of:

• Lenny Goldberg, CA Tax Reform Association
• Kim McCoy Wade, Western Center on Law and Poverty,
• Allen Davenport from the SEIU CA State Council
• Lisandro Diaz, State Bldg. & Const. Trades Council
• Representatives from CFT, AFSCME, CTA and CSEA

This was a dense workshop with each participant a wealth of information. Kim McCoy-Wade described the Center’s efforts to put together a coalition of like-minded people to protect programs and help each other: “Reform, Revenue and Accountability”. She recounted how when John Burton served in the state senate he would never let anything happen to SSI. Yet this year is the first time that children are not protected. Their IHSS network is coming together with Labor (particularly SEIU) and Community organizations unifying around their shared goals. They have active budget coalitions in 12 areas of the state but need more press coverage, communication, and “welfare activists” lobbying the state. She expressed being “stunned” at what the state gave away this year.

Also in this workshop SEIU’s Allen Davenport reported working on 97 different budget issues this year from court employees to homecare, health to school employees. Yet for all the work the results are disappointing. He stated that currently the rules and numbers are against us. There just aren’t enough people voting enough. We need to reapportion the state in 2012 and it will only work if we elect the right people. (COPE drives anyone?)

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Dolores Huerta (Dolores Huerta Foundation) began the proceedings by urging us continue to fight for affordable healthcare for all. At 79, she remains a tireless advocate for health care reform while spreading her message of peace and acceptance of all people. Here is a direct quote from her speech: “Respecting other people’s rights is PEACE. Who gives a damn if same-sex couples want to marry? It doesn’t affect me.”

The Keynote Speaker was Fernando Torres-Gil, Associate Dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs. His message was simple: This country needs and is ready for a new social movement, a coalition of those of us who have benefited from programs that have helped us throughout our lives. He described “The Politics of Aging” and the tactics that some use to portray us as selfish and just wanting something for ourselves. After summarizing the gains older Americans have made since the Great Depression he called for the need to rebuild our progressive coalition with: 1) older persons ~ the largest number ever thanks to medical breakthroughs, healthier living and financial stability, 2) persons with disabilities a fast-growing demographic, and 3) Latinos ~ the Nation’s largest minority and the majority in some states. Dr. Torres-Gil, who fits into all three of these demographics, cautions that we must have the power to counteract the terrible divisiveness that has permeated the debate.

We ended the Convention with a picket line and rally in front of an El Segundo Rite Aid (see photos attached). Rite Aid has been refusing to bargain in good faith with their workers for the past three years. Quoting from David Bacon’s book, “Rite Aid and the Failure of Labor Law”, this is the reason CARA chose to picket the local El Segundo Rite Aid near the Convention site.

For the last three years its employees have overcome one obstacle after another in their effort to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Each obstacle has been placed in their path by this country’s weak labor laws, a problem the Employee Free Choice Act was written to correct. That’s why Rite Aid and other large employers are fighting the bill in Congress.

The Employee Free Choice Act would go a long way toward solving the problems workers have at three crucial stages in union organizing efforts – anti-union firings at the beginning, getting their union recognized, and negotiating that first agreement. Says Angel Warner, one of Rite Aid’s most vocal pro-union employees, ‘if we’d had EFCA, we’d have had our union and contract a long time ago.’

Rite Aid opened its big new Lancaster warehouse in the high desert just northeast of Los Angeles in 1999, with tax breaks for locating in a local enterprise zone. The facility might have been new, but working in it was like stepping into the past. The cavernous building was freezing cold in winter, and broiling hot in the summer. The company installed a computerized, state-of-the-art tracking system for the myriad products it sends out to stores everyday. But that system put punishing pressure on people to work faster, timing their every move.

Employees say they were pushed hard by their supervisors, and got rewards and advancement only if they got on the inside track. Ten-hour days are normal and mandatory overtime comes all the time. ‘If management likes you, it’s fine,’ Warner says, ‘but if you’re not in good, you have to watch out because you’re always on the chopping block. I’ve been there since Rite Aid opened, and I’ve watched a lot of people come and go.’

‘There’s nothing out here in the Antelope Valley that could be considered a good wage,’ said Christine Martinez, another Rite Aid worker. ‘You start at minimum wage and don’t go up.’

CARA is a great organization which operates on a shoestring while working to pass legislation to protect and enhance the lives of retirees as well as active workers in California. I’m proud that we are affiliated with CARA and know that partnering with them on issues affecting our workers and retirees is a “win win” for us.

For more information check CARA’s website: www.californiaalliance.org

Report by Carol Garvey, Retired Member Committee Chair, Santa Clara County Chapter.

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