December 26, 2014
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In what has become a Christmas Eve tradition, Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned 105 state residents, indeed a merry Christmas for them. The pardoned included those once convicted of nonviolent drug offenses or petty burglary charges more than a decade ago, assuming they’ve lived “exemplary” lives since. Pardons don’t erase the convictions but do allow the recipients to serve on juries, and under certain conditions, own guns.
Brown is one of California’s most forgiving governors. Since his 2011 inauguration, Brown has issued 510 pardons, on target to break Ronald Reagan’s 574 total achieved over eight years and well above fellow Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 15, and Pete Wilson’s 13. Gray Davis, zero, is at the bottom of the list.
With Brown’s inauguration ceremony set for Jan. 5, his relatively non-controversial pardons provide a good springboard to analyze what’s ahead for California during his second second term, the first second term having been served from 1979 to 1983.
As with most states, California’s pivotal issue in 2015 will be jobs: the total available, their pay rate and the numbers of hours per week that they’ll provide. Since Californians’ poverty level has deepened under Brown, and remains by far the nation’s highest, putting people back to work must be Brown’s first priority. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 25 percent of California’s 38 million residents — 9 million people — live in poverty.
Next year, California’s jobs may be plentiful for the highly skilled, but will continue scarce for those with only a high school diploma or less. The UCLA Anderson Forecast predicts that information and technology positions will remain in demand while manufacturing, professional services and construction jobs lost during the recession continue to wane. Factories are producing more goods but with fewer workers on the payroll.
For example, this Christmas season, at Amazon’s Tracy distribution center, 3,000 robots performed essential functions that cut order processing to 13 minutes from over an hour — but that also will “almost assuredly” eventually displace human workers, says University of California, Berkeley labor expert Harley Shaiken. Amazon has 109 warehouses that feature an aggregate 19,000-strong robotic fleet.
While Brown will be challenged on the jobs front, his administration could move more vigorously to protect employed workers. Controller John Chiang has embarked on a campaign, under the provisions of the state’s Unclaimed Property Law, to crack down on wage theft, estimated in Los Angeles County alone at $390 million annually. Many of the employers are in the food service industry, and underpay their employees, some of them illegal immigrants, or dismiss them without paying wages owed.
The sums may seem small, such as not paying for prep or closing time, but they add up. If a minimum wage worker isn’t paid for even half an hour, his annual loss including unpaid overtime could reach $1,400 a year. Wage theft also costs state and local governments an estimated $7 billion in tax revenues.
Since California’s regulators collect only about 17 cents on the dollar in worker theft cases, four out of five legal citations never result in collections. Brown should put more muscle behind Chiang’s “Operation Pay-Up.” Unscrupulous employers should not go unpunished.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization. Contact him at [email protected].