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More Work to Be Done

Leaders Prepare for Battles Over Pay Issues


Fresh from scoring major victories in this month's elections, organized labor in California is getting ready to flex its rejuvenated political muscle.

Although the state's labor leaders have yet to decide what legislation to push, they already know what they want to fight. At the top of their list are two initiatives pushed this year by Gov. Pete Wilson's administration: cutting the "prevailing wage" for construction workers on public works projects and relaxing the daily overtime rule, which requires overtime pay for workers any time they put in more than eight hours in a single day.

Labor will also contest, perhaps in the courts as well as the Legislature, a workplace ergonomics standard expected to be adopted today by the all-Republican California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.

Union leaders protest that the proposed standard for preventing repetitive motion ailments is a bare-bones plan that will accomplish little.

Art Pulaski, elected head of the California Labor Federation in July, said he plans to focus on drumming up grass-roots support as a way to advance legislative proposals, rather than relying on traditional Sacramento arm-twisting.

The model for the federation's efforts, he said, will be its successful campaign for Proposition 210, the initiative that will raise California's minimum wage to $5.75 an hour.

Pulaski, 44, said an unprecedented army of more than 12,500 California union members visited homes, made phone calls or did other volunteer work to gather support for the proposition. He also credits union volunteers' grass-roots work with restoring a Democratic majority in the Assembly.

To maintain the momentum, Pulaski said, the federation will call more hearings and rallies around the state to highlight key workplace issues.

"The goal is to let people know that the union is not just run by elected leaders, that they themselves have the opportunity to speak out on these issues that are important to them," he said. "It's a democratic institution in motion."

Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein can be reached by phone at (213) 237-7887 or by e-mail at

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