Setting the record straight about worker victories

We are two women with more than a combined 50 years in San Francisco’s progressive community who helped win two of the worker victories that Ahsha Safai takes credit for in an op-ed published in the San Francisco Examiner on Oct. 25.

Although we know Safai, in both of the examples he cites — the passage of The City’s $15 minimum wage and the Retail Worker Bill of Rights — we do not remember him playing a significant role and thus feel compelled to set the record straight.

San Francisco is ground-zero for income inequality. The Brookings Institution found the income gap between San Francisco’s rich and poor has been growing faster than in other city in the nation. In response, workers, labor and community organizations came together in 2014 to put forward two worker rights proposals that would support and lift up low-wage workers in this time of economic crisis.

The first proposal was put forth by the “Campaign for a Fair Economy,” a coalition of low-wage workers groups, community and labor organizations that launched an effort in 2014 to pass a new $15 minimum wage measure. After a series of negotiation meetings convened by the offices of Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim, we reached consensus on a strong $15 minimum wage measure that would be on the November 2014 ballot. San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed the measure with a 78 percent yes vote.

During this entire process, the only time we saw Safai was at the one rally at the Ferry Building, which we organized with the Mayor’s Office.  

At the same time, community and labor groups convened by Jobs with Justice realized that even raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour was not enough. The inability to get full-time hours and being subject to erratic and unpredictable schedules means many workers can’t support their families, have a second job, go to school or have a family life.

In December 2014, we passed the nation’s first Retail Workers Bill of Rights. This groundbreaking set of policies gave more than 40,000 retail, restaurant and service workers in San Francisco access to full-time work, two weeks advance notice of schedules and on-call pay. The unanimous vote by the Board of Supervisors allowed this legislation to be put into law, despite Mayor Lee’s lack of support.

As for Safai, he came to a few coalition meetings toward the end of a yearlong process, but that was the extent of his involvement. His claim that he “helped lead the passage of the Retail Workers Bill of Rights” is simply not true.

For many years, San Francisco has been a leader in establishing and enforcing groundbreaking worker protections. People have worked tirelessly to achieve these victories. Despite his claims, Safai played a very marginal role in these important coalition efforts.

We should give credit where credit is due, and, unfortunately, Safai has not earned the right to claim these victories.

Shaw San Liu is a longtime labor organizer and a founding member of the San Francisco Progressive Workers Alliance. Conny Ford has been a member of her union for more than 30 years and currently serves as an officer of the San Francisco Labor Council.

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