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California Governor Chooses Business Over Workers, Vetoes Important Worker Protection Bills

Two critical bills for workers, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and the Trust Act, were vetoed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown over the weekend. What now?

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Still, aside from the painful vetoes, Brown managed to approve more modest pro-immigrant measures, such as allowing driver’s licenses for some undocumented immigrants (a move apparently aimed at the youth who would qualify for temporary immigration relief and work permits under the White House’s new “deferred action” policy).

The problem is that making it easier for undocumented workers to drive isn’t going to prevent them from being pulled over and ensnared in deportation proceedings. A young man named  Juan Santiago told the Associated Press:

he was pleased he would be able to get from his home in Madera to his college classes 30 miles away once his work permit application is approved. But he said the measure does little for his mother, who brought him across the Arizona desert into the U.S. when he was 11.

"It was a happy and a sad day for us," Santiago said. "The fact that the governor vetoed the TRUST Act, it means there's nothing to protect the rest of my family members."

The legislative changes that immigrants most need now are those that protect the whole neighborhood--at work, in school and at home. In an email to Working In These Times, Chris Newman, legal director of California-based  National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), one of the leading advocates for the Trust Act, says:

Equality demands that all Californians have faith in law enforcement, and the vetoes send a message that whether it's civil rights, labor rights, or public safety, Jerry Brown does not respect the interests of immigrant workers in California.

While the vetoes were a blow to the movement, passing pro-immigrant policies is not an end in itself. Even in New York, where a  hard-fought Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is already on the books, workers  have faced difficulty in using the law to directly challenge employers over workplace violations.

Building political savvy and leverage on the street level is critical, with or without supportive legislation. As NDLON activist Pablo Alvarado  wrote on the group's blog, the governor "can veto a bill but he cannot veto a movement.” Ultimately, it’s the community’s power, not the letter of the law, that defines justice.

 

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor to In These Times and a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com and Pacifica’s WBAI. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.