Strikes highlight California’s soaring cost of living

Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group

Operator Jacob Malaga holds up signs as he and members of United Steelworkers Local 5 strike at the entrance of the Chevron refinery in Richmond on Monday, March 21, 2022.

Welcome to Striketober — in March.

Workers across California are hitting the picket line to protest staff shortages and what they say are unsafe labor conditions and wages inadequate to cover the skyrocketing cost of living — heightening the stakes of ongoing labor negotiations and increasing pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to quickly settle on a plan for sending financial relief to residents.

  • More than 500 workers at a Chevron oil refinery in Richmond went on strike early Monday, calling for a “Bay Area bump” in wages. Chevron doesn’t “plan on giving our members any more help with inflation and with the high cost of living,” B.K. White, first vice president of United Steel Workers Local 5, told the Mercury News. “We’re not trying to get rich, we’re trying to maintain a standard of living and not require workers … work themselves to death just to stay in the Bay Area.”
  • Sacramento City Unified School District employees are preparing to go on strike Wednesday — a move that could shutter campuses serving about 40,000 students — though union and district representatives were set to return to the bargaining table Tuesday. One of the union’s demands: a cost-of-living raise, which was supported by an independent review by a panel from the California Public Employment Relations Board.
  • And more than 47,000 grocery workers in Southern and Central California started voting Monday on whether to authorize a strike against supermarket chains Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions. “It’s like we’ve walked through hell and can’t stop now,” John Grant, president of United Food and Commercial Workers 770, told the Los Angeles Times. He called the companies’ proposal to give the highest-tier grocery workers a 60-cent annual wage increase over three years “paltry” and said it didn’t address the soaring cost of living.

The strikes suggest that California’s rising cost of living could be a key issue for voters in the 2022 elections — and Republican lawmakers are seizing the opportunity to slam Democrats.

  • The Assembly Republican Caucus on Monday unveiled a timer tracking the amount of time that’s passed since Newsom’s vague promise, outlined in his State of the State speech, to put money back in Californians’ pockets to help them pay for gas and other necessities. (As of Monday, it was 12 days.) “Every minute that Democrats stall is a minute California families are forced to choose between a full tank of gas and a full cart of groceries,” said Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City, noting that Democrats shot down Republicans’ proposal to immediately suspend the state’s excise gas tax.
  • And experts say the strike at the Richmond Chevron refinery, which accounts for 13% to 14% of California’s refinery capacity, could cause the state’s gas prices to spike even more — though Chevron says operations are expected to continue as normal.
  • Any additional increase could be politically perilous: California’s average gas prices continue to rise, reaching a new high of $5.855 on Monday, even as the national average is dropping, according to the American Automobile Association.

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