CVIndependent

Fri08142020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Julie Su wants the world’s fifth-largest economy to remain a global juggernaut. To do so, California’s labor secretary acknowledges, the state will need to position its workforce for the jobs of the future—a catchall term that encompasses not only the promise of innovation, but also the dystopian threat of increased income disparity.

Economists project massive upheaval from disparate forces such as automation and an aging population. California’s challenge, as Su sees it, is to roll with those disruptions while making sure jobs here continue to pay a living wage, offer worker protections and accommodate working families.

In short, she wants the future of work to bridge today’s wealth gap. A labor and civil rights attorney—and past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant—Su has been leading the Future of Work Commission alongside Chief Economic Adviser Lenny Mendonca and Senior Adviser on Higher Education Lande Ajose. They have been hosting meetings across the state with the goal of coming up with a new social compact for workers.

Meanwhile, Su—whose full job title is secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency—has committed to a new future-of-work department to execute the commission’s findings and recommendations. In an interview, edited here for length, she spoke about the commission’s goals and how she plans to enforce California’s own recent workplace disruption—the new worker classification law known as AB 5.

What are we looking at in terms of future of work? And why should Californians care about this topic?

We hear so much about how A.I. (artificial intelligence) is going to destroy jobs, such as how a robot will take the place of humans. But the commission was formed under the principle that there’s nothing inevitable about the shape of our future economy. We can, through policies and interventions … come together to reverse the 40-year trend of growing income inequality and poverty.

What’s your understanding of the distribution of wages right now, whether it’s gender, race or geography?

Over one-third of working people in California make less than $15 an hour. And a full 20 percent of those earning less than $15 have a college degree or some college education, which forces us to think about the connection between education and job opportunity, right?

It’s not enough to address the cost of things; we also have to address how much people actually make, so we have to focus on the quality of jobs.

Over the last 40 years, productivity has increased by 259 percent, but wages only by 11.6 percent, which means that we have a massive distribution problem. The productivity gains are going somewhere, but they’re not going to working people. And that’s creating not just income disparity, but also wealth disparity.

And the racial wealth gap is astounding. The median wealth of black families who have a college education is below the median wealth of white families who do not have a college education. Those are the problems we need to solve.

So what are examples of solutions?

I don’t want to pre-suppose what the commission’s going to come up with. I think that there are some policies, strategies and ideas that have been tried and we just need to expand them. We’re looking here and elsewhere in the world. What lessons do they have for California? And then, I think that there are ideas and solutions that sitting here today we have not yet imagined.

Can you at least tease me with an idea?

For example, at the first meeting, the commission had a panel of four workers, and one had a union job where she worked as a janitor. The union job actually helps to preserve her security, but that job was also subcontracted out, and when it was, she’s lost certain things like a retirement benefit.

So clearly, one part of the answer is: What is the role of union? And how do we ensure that unions are strong and can organize and, given changes in the economy, are supported in new ways of organizing? There’s data that shows that having a union does more to ensure higher wages than even having a college degree.

The second was a warehouse worker who talked about how he basically felt like a number. Automation was used … to set a high level of surveillance, and he felt expendable. So what ways can technology innovate, not just for the benefit of the shareholders and consumers, but for the benefit of working people?

Then the other two workers who spoke were in workplaces, both of whom have received money from the Quality Jobs Fund, a collaboration between the Federal Home Loan (Bank of) San Francisco and the New World Foundation. And the fund was used for capital investments in companies that meet certain job-quality criteria. These two workers both talked about how their jobs allow for a living wage, have flexibility—one of them had a special-needs child and needed to go to appointments—(and) that include benefits, access to training and professional development, and then upward mobility and a chance to build wealth.

All those suggest higher labor costs for employers, though. Is there a point where government then starts to subsidize private industry in order to provide a private-sector worker with better wages? Is that a direction we should contemplate?

I think everything is on the table. What the governor has charged the commission with is to think really boldly, not assume that anything that’s already in place has to be here or that anything we haven’t yet seen is impossible to create.

In parallel to the commission, we’re also creating a future-of-work department under the labor agency. We’re going to create a department that will be poised when the commissions has its recommendations to actually execute many of them. That’s how concrete we want to be.

Part of the initial phase of the department is really just to realign existing service inside of government. One of the things that I think is very frustrating to people who try to interact with the government and try to access services, is when we say to you, “not this agency, the next agency.” What I want to do is eliminate the next window problem: “You’re in the wrong line, go to this next line.”

You want to create one line in which people can get what they need when they seek help from the government. It’s not just about creating new legislation and new powers; it’s about taking powers you already have and creating one streamlined, efficient and accessible department.

The governor signed AB 5, the worker-misclassification bills, and it will now take effect in January. I’m wondering what will you and your agency’s role be in enforcing that?

I often say that the instability that working people face—partly because of misclassification—has resulted in the day-labor-ization of our economy. Instead of steady, consistent, reliable work, people end up basically in odd jobs, and you’re hustling all the time, right? So AB 5 is meant to address that kind of misclassification so that we can bring more people who should be under the protection of our labor laws back on that floor.

We’re going to be enforcing both through our wage-claim process, where individuals who feel like they have been misclassified can come and file wage claims. An example of that is we’ve had almost 1,000 cases in the port-trucking industry filed before the labor commissioner that we’ve adjudicated and found millions of dollars owing to truck drivers who have been misclassified.

The other is just doing investigations and audits. That will be on both wages and tax, because AB 5 expands the ABC test that way. So we will be doing investigations and audits so that those who want to comply with the need to reclassify can do so, and those who don’t will understand that’s not the kind of economy we want in California. So we can issue citations and demand both wages and taxes and other kinds of penalties.

Do you expect to investigate Uber and Lyft?

We do not talk about who we will investigate or the fact we are investigating. I do want to say that misclassification did not arise when the gig economy came into being. And it will not be ended by that. We also are hopeful that there are businesses who will join us in this administration who are committed to combating misclassification and also find new ways for workers to organize.

There are some workers who have been excluded from federal protections, and California has a really unique opportunity to bring them into the fold and think about ensuring that they have true union protection working side by side with labor and businesses who are interested in doing that.

Did you have conversations with Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates or any other entities?

We did. I think we always want to work with—whether it’s business or labor—on trying to solve some of these complex and intractable problems. As the governor said when he signed AB 5, we want to continue to be open to those conversations and whatever possibilities they might bring about for trying to improve working conditions and the lives of the drivers in California.

Why wasn’t a third way accomplished in the last legislative cycle? Why couldn’t a compromise be done?

That’s a good question. We wanted to make sure we were working with folks who wanted to talk about this, but I don’t think there was a deadline in our minds for that. These ongoing issues; they’re very complex. And when we talk about creating a voice for workers, that it’s really a voice premised on unions—like a genuine right to a union on the job. If we can accomplish something, it will set a model for the country. 

What’s realistic for the state or local government to stem this growth in wealth inequality? You’re setting up high expectations here. We have a capitalistic society, so what’s doable here?

We would rather set really high standards for ourselves. And if we cannot reach them all, we at least challenge ourselves to give it everything we’ve got. We are looking at this from all angles. There may be some simple things that we can do. Some of them are building off the great innovation and talents of people in California already. Are there models we can replicate and support and share so that people who want to do this right don’t have to invent it from scratch? At the first meeting, we talked about tax law, about social structures.

We don’t have an end date for the commission’s work. We have monthly meetings from now until April. We will also be issuing a report in May that’s a part of the governor’s executive order. We’d like to make sure we engage with a broader segment of Californians around what whatever the recommendations are, and that could be academic institutions, philanthropy, worker centers, the tech industry and business. 

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

As we approach the one-year anniversary of legal cannabis in California, the Coachella Valley has gone through many changes—specifically on the employment front.

As this new industry has evolved, so have the career prospects in the region, with many cannabis employers in the Coachella Valley ramping up to hire in large numbers in 2019. Understandably, many potential employees have questions about careers in the cannabis industry—and there are a few things any prospective employee should know before jumping in.

The job opportunities are numerous and continuing to grow along with the industry, ranging from entry-level jobs, such as budtenders and trimmers, to high-level growers and professional roles, such as human-resource work and executive leadership. While the high-end jobs can pay up to six figures, it is taking some time for the industry to catch up in terms of pay and benefits, although things are beginning to level out.

Remember that the majority of the cannabis companies in the Coachella Valley are ever-evolving, meaning companies are not as stable as many potential employees would like. Some these companies have experienced a level of “sticker shock” at the market rate for qualified employees. Brian Harmsen, CEO of Designworks Talent in Palm Springs, which specializes in cannabis job placement, cautions that although the cannabis industry is catching up, it is still behind the curve because of its infancy. He said it’s critical that any new employee understand the scope of the work—and understand the challenges currently facing the industry. Anyone interested in entering the industry must keep in mind it is an industry in flux, and therefore may not be good for those who are not flexible, he said. As with all startup industries, there are many kinks that will take time to work out. Harmsen said startup cannabis companies are risky, often disorganized, sometimes messy, fast-changing, and lacking in infrastructure. If you don’t have the ability to tolerate the dynamics of the industry in its current state, you may want to consider waiting until the California cannabis industry is more established, he said.

The instability and newness do not mean employees aren’t entitled to the protections afforded to them by U.S. and California labor laws—and many cannabis companies are hiring people without fully understanding the legalities of being an employer, breaking labor laws and thus putting their companies at risk. Jerry Cooksey, director of marketing and employment brand at Designworks Talent, said employees need to know their rights to ensure they are protected, especially as more and more cannabis companies are coming online and ramping up their hiring.

The fact that the industry is new affects both sides on the hiring equation; there are not a lot of people experienced in the cannabis industry for companies to hire. Because of these challenges, cannabis companies must carefully consider how they do their workforce planning in order to recruit the best talent. Cooksey said cannabis companies need to fully understand their brands and who they are, identify their workforce values, determine employee support (such as benefits and compensation packages), clearly define employment needs (including job analyses), and ensure they have legitimized their ability as an employer by understanding labor law and making sure they have all of the required insurance in place.

If you have determined you can tolerate the current state of the industry and are looking to be hired, Harmsen suggested that potential employees consider the size of the company and its culture, ask questions, and look at how the company is branding and marketing itself. Also: Take queues from the interview.

There is no doubt the “green rush” is bringing new employment opportunities to the Coachella Valley. The potential for economic development in cities like Desert Hot Springs, Coachella, Indio and Cathedral City is unprecedented, and each large facility opening can mean between 150 to 300 new jobs. As things level out in the coming years, we can expect to see a solvent and strong workforce in cannabis throughout the Coachella Valley.

Robin Goins is a business consultant for DR.G Consulting and works extensively in the cannabis industry in the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.drrobingoins.com.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Finding work in the Coachella Valley is not an easy task—unless you’re looking for a low-paying job without much opportunity for advancement.

Even people with a lot of skills and great work histories have trouble finding satisfying work. I have heard of people with doctorates in Spanish taking jobs as housekeepers just to pay the bills. I came out of the service industry, and taught in the culinary program at a community college for 13 years; I mistakenly assumed my skills would be in high demand when I came to the desert. Instead, I have had to hustle to find meaningful employment.

This is why the jobs the newish and thriving cannabis industry is bringing to the Coachella Valley are needed and welcome.

On Indeed.com alone, at last check, there were 11 local marijuana-industry positions paying $50,000 a year or more listed. It’s estimated that there are approximately 123,000 full-time jobs in the legal cannabis industry in the U.S., with more than a third of those jobs located here in California—and research firm BDS Analytics estimates that number will double in three years.

With all this talk of a “Green Rush,” it is easy to see how people might be drawn to the possibility of stock options and the chance to help build a company—and industry—from the ground floor. However, there are some things to consider when applying for work in the marijuana industry.

First and foremost: Not everyone will be supportive of your new career choice. After 50 years of prohibition, people have built up a lot of prejudices. I have heard stories about people being told that they’re destroying the possibility of future careers outside of the industry, and/or throwing away their current potential. Hopefully, here in California, that will not be the case—but these prejudices do exist and need to be considered. Before I started writing this column for the Independent, I had to take into consideration what friends, family and future employers would think once a Google search of my name turned up regular articles about cannabis.

Since the industry is so new and under development, you should do some research to make sure the company you are applying with is state-licensed. The Bureau of Cannabis Control is working hard to make sure that non-licensed companies are either brought into compliance with state law—or put out of business.

Furthermore, make sure you understand the rules and regulations of the industry—and there are a lot of them. Not only are there a bunch of currently changing state laws; every city has its own set of rules. Knowing the rules will give you a leg up on the competition and show your future employer you’re serious and not just looking for some discount smokes. By the way, it is currently not legal for cannabis companies to give away any product samples. Budtenders are supposed to be paying the same price for the merchandise as any consumer.

As with any job, networking is key. Attending conferences like the recent Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit is a way to get yourself noticed; so, too, are job fairs. Locally, the Coachella Valley Cannabis Alliance Network has a monthly networking dinner the first Monday of every month. If you find a company you would like to work for, try to make a connection. If you are looking to be a budtender, go into the dispensary and talk to the current budtenders to make sure it’s a place you would like to work. Alternately, reach out via Linkedin for an informational interview—or to just take someone out for coffee.

Additionally, research the types of jobs that interest you and for which you think you would be qualified. Just because you love smoking pot, that doesn’t mean you are ready to be the CFO of a cannabis company.

Finally—and I would think that this goes without saying, but friends in the industry tell me otherwise—do NOT show up to a job interview stoned. No employer is going to hire someone who comes to an interview impaired.

When it comes to jobs, the cannabis industry is really no different than any other, aside from the rapid rate of expansion and its quickly changing rules and regulations. The industry is becoming less Cheech and Chong and more Harvard Business School every day.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Dear Mexican: Where is my America? I’m half-Hispanic and half-Italian. I was born on Coney Island to a drug-addicted father and was raised by my mom, who had to work. We were very poor. I’ve always had to struggle for basic possessions. Spanish was not spoken in my house, so my Spanish is muy malo. I’ve worked since I was 15, barking on the games in Coney Island.

I went to culinary school and became a chef. I’ve worked in the industry for 10 years. It is inundated with illegal Mexican workers. Most of these guys are OK, and they are willing to work longer hours, for less pay. Gone is the eight-hour work day. Nobody gets health coverage. It’s rare to get a paid vacation. It’s rare not to work six days a week. I feel the influx of illegal workers has lowered labor standards for all workers in the industry. I believe it also creates a population of second-class people ripe for abuses. Plus, these guys got skill: They are fast and focused. They never complain and think that complaining a problem in itself. I feel like I can be easily replaced with an illegal worker with whom I can’t compete.

I don’t mind helping out people who need work. But where can I go? Most restaurants are small businesses, and hiring illegal workers is part of the business plan. Where can I go to have my American Dream? I’ve also been called gringo, whitey and pelón by illegals who, it seems, have never heard of civil rights.

Coney Island Angry

Dear Gabacho: I was mostly with you in your letter—yes, American worker rights have suffered during the Great Recession; no, it ain’t the fault of Mexicans. Robber barons are the culprit choking labor now, just like when the Molly Maguires were raising hell in Pennsylvania coal mines.

Then you started whining that the Mexican cocineros you worked alongside with in kitchens called you names. So you’re upset that they called you two types of gabacho, and a baldy, to boot? That just means they thought you were enough of a friend that they felt they could bust your balls. But obviously, they didn’t trust you too much—otherwise, they’d give you worse names. And I’m not talking about the parade of pendejo, puto and güey that any male in an all-Mexican environment must endure. You haven’t earned a Mexican squad’s trust until you have an insulting nickname—the more inappropriate, the better.

In my time, I’ve known of Mexicans in workplaces whose nicknames were El Taliban (for the man’s beard), El Perico (The Parrot, for the guy’s taste in cocaine), El Maricón (The Faggot, because the hombre was gay—he laughed it off, especially when learning more than a few of his macho co-workers were on the down-low), El Panzón (The Fatass) and—my all-time favorite—La Panocha (The Pussy), because homeboy was a player.

But I’m a nice guy, so I’ll give you a new nickname: El Chavala. You can look it up!

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

On this week's mind-challenging Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at the thoughts of the counter-intuitivist; Jen Sorenson examines the job market in the America of the future; The K Chronicles wonders what in the world is going on in Seattle; and Red Meat has some winter fun.

Published in Comics