State Commissioner Cracks Down on Employers for Labor Law Violations

By Mitch Seaman

No one wins when employers break labor laws, but whenever California's star Labor Commissioner Julie Su announces the latest round of enforcement actions, it sure feels like a victory.

Case in point: This week, Commissioner Su hit three of the worst violators with over $1.8 million in backpay and penalty assessments for stealing employees' wages, defrauding the workers' comp system and willfully breaking a variety of other workforce protection laws.

Statewide Tour to Close the "Walmart Loophole" Kicks Off in West Sacramento

By Steve Smith

Walmart shoppers probably didn't expect to be greeted Friday morning at 5 AM by a lively group of taxpayers protesting the "Walmart Loophole," which allows large companies like Walmart to avoid their responsibilities to pay their fair share for their workers' health care. But that's exactly what they encountered in West Sacramento.

About 30 demonstrators launched a statewide tour aimed at educating shoppers and the media about Walmart's practice of paying its workers so little that they are pushed into taxpayer-funded programs like Medi-Cal. The group also handed out information about AB 880 (Gomez), which would mandate that the state's largest and most profitable companies pay their fair share when their workers end up on taxpayer-funded Medi-Cal.

Pharmacist Kickbacks Put California Patient Health at Risk

By Hollaine Hopkins

Health care cost containment is a critical issue facing every participant in the health care system. Efforts to contain costs, however, appear to have given rise to dangerous financial arrangements between health insurers and pharmacists that may be jeopardizing the health of California patients.

A loophole in California law allows your health insurer to give a financial kickback to your pharmacist every time the pharmacist switches your medication to older, cheaper, non-chemically equivalent drugs from those originally prescribed by your doctor, even without your knowledge.

Building Transportation Infrastructure in a Broken Political System

By Robert Cruickshank

Over at his blog, Alon Levy has an interesting post calling for more democracy in the planning and authorization of transportation infrastructure. Levy points to Switzerland as an example of a political system where transportation projects are routinely put to a referendum and the results are generally positive. He contrasts that with the California high speed rail project, which he argues was the product of a flawed political process:

I've begun to believe that California's original sin with its HSR project is that it refused to do the same. Prop 1A was a referendum for what was billed as one third of the cost, $10 billion. In reality it was $9 billion and $1 billion in extra funds for connecting local transit; in year of expenditure dollars the estimated budget then was $43 billion, so barely a fifth of the project's cost was voted on. The HSR Authority planned on getting the rest of the money from federal funding and private-sector funding. Prop 1A even required a 1:1 match from an external source, so confident the Authority was that it would get extra money.

"Other People's Children": The Corollary of Bad Policy

By Mark Naison

For some time, I have argued that School Reform is the most destructive bi-partisan initiative we have suffered in the United States since the Vietnam War, a policy which has, and will continue to inspire mass movements to limit the damage it inflicts through universal testing of the nation's children, and the humiliation and micro-management of the nation's teachers.

Some have argued, correctly, that people have not lost their lives as a result of School Reform even when schools are closed, teachers are fired, communities destabilized, instruction has been reduced to test prep, and young people's minds have been reduced to mush by relentless testing. That is certainly true. But one thing does seem similar. Both produced PTSD.

The Hollowing Out of Government

Robert ReichBy Robert Reich

The West Texas chemical and fertilizer plant where at least 15 were killed and more than 200 injured a few weeks ago hadn't been fully inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. (A partial inspection in 2011 had resulted in $5,250 in fines.)

OSHA and its state partners have a total of 2,200 inspectors charged with ensuring the safety of more than 8 million workplaces employing 130 million workers. That comes to about one inspector for every 59,000 American workers.

There's no way it can do its job with so few resources, but OSHA has been systematically hollowed out for the years under Republican administrations and congresses that have despised the agency since its inception.

Assembly Committee Votes to Curb California Marine Pollution

By Leila Monroe

Good news came last week when the California Assembly Natural Resource Committee passed Assembly Bill 521, a bill that would protect our oceans, coasts and communities by adopting a statewide goal of reducing marine plastic pollution by 75 percent by 2020, and by 95 percent by 2025.

California Senate Health Committee Focuses on Wellness

By Linda Leu

The California Senate Health Committee had extensive discussion Wednesday about a number of issues related to improving the health and well-being of Californians.

The first revolved around workplace wellness programs. While some large employers have claimed success in promoting prevention and health at the worksite, other employers have used wellness programs tied to health insurance to shift coverage costs to employees and to discriminate against workers with health conditions.

Ray LaHood: HSR is Obama's Crowning Glory

By Robert Cruickshank

Ray LaHood gave some parting remarks this week as he wraps up his tenure as U.S. Transportation Secretary. He was full of praise for President Barack Obama, but high speed rail was at the top of the list.

"Crisis in Public Confidence" Moves Three Fracking Moratorium Bills Forward

By Dan Aiello

In a vote along party lines, three bills calling for a halt to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Golden State moved forward Monday.

"At a minimum, there is a crisis in public confidence" with the state's ability to regulate fracking and keep Californians safe, Assembly Natural Resources Chair, Wesley Chesbro (D-Humboldt) told oil and gas lobbyists who testified before his committee which passed all three fracking moratorium bills; AB1323 (Mitchell), AB1301 (Bloom) and AB649 (Nazarian).

In response, the usually confident Paul Deiro, one of the Western States Petroleum Association lobbyists, lamented bills heard at the committee's previous hearing "were far more reasonable than the three moratorium bills you hear today" and argued that there is no evidence that fracking is unsafe.