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Grateful for some good news for workers — and what’s possible

“Aren’t there any good things happening?” That was a question one of my twins, age 10, asked before the holidays, in light of all the troubling stories in the news. (They’ve since forbidden me from having the news on during the drive to school.)  

It is easy to overlook the rays of hope and progress in a world with so much violence, division, and inequities. This includes the many hardships and barriers for the workers in our state paid the lowest wages — the focus of our philanthropy. 

So, I want to start off this year with some gratitude and optimism about what is happening —  and what is possible — to create a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically.  

First and foremost, I am moved and inspired by the work of the organizations we support. This is not lip service; I am regularly in awe of the ability of our grantees, working under difficult conditions, to increase economic opportunity for all workers — particularly Californians typically left out of our state’s prosperity.  

This includes grantees creating access to quality jobs for workers facing the greatest barriers and building the power of workers to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and local economies. I cannot do justice to all the organizations making an impact on the lives and futures of working Californians, so I encourage you to read about some of them on the pages of our initiatives and projects: Better Careers, Fair Work, Just Prosperity, Priority Communities, and Housing Affordability 

You can also see and hear directly from some of these inspiring grantees and the Californians they serve in videos produced last year for our Fair Work and Just Prosperity initiatives. Our Fair Work team also commissioned an independent journalist to produce an impressive media series, Wage Theft Stories, examining the all-too-frequent practice and its potential solutions. 

Worker voice and power is key to those solutions, and I was heartened in 2023 to see the growing momentum of the organized labor movement. There were more than 400 strikes last year, involving half a million workers — with a growing number in private sector unions — according to Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker. Union workers make 10-20% more than their counterparts— and their wins can lift wages through entire sectors, regardless of unionization. And  new data shows that wage gains are outpacing inflation, which is particularly good news when our economy is growing both jobs and wages at the same time. 

I’m also cautiously optimistic about commitments across sectors to advance racial equity. If the institutions that made statements in recent years deliver on those promises, there could be a sea change in how intentionally and effectively we address racism, discrimination, and exclusion in society.  

Promising examples of efforts gaining steam — and more funding — include the California Black Freedom Fund, Latino Power Fund, and the California Truth & Healing Fund for our state’s Native communities. Irvine is proud to support these efforts, and we know that equity is not just about funding but also about our practices.  

In 2022, I shared a statement and commitments from the Foundation, approved by our board, to advance racial equity in our grantmaking and operations. I’m proud of our continued focus, including changes in how we give and in our internal policies and practices. We’ll share specific examples on our blog this year, from different Irvine leaders, for transparency and to continue learning across the sector on this important topic. We know that it’s actions and change, not words, that matter. 

I’m grateful for the commitment of our board. Last month, we added two new and impressive trustees: Sheri Dunn Berry and Marc McMorris, who you can read about here. Each of our trustees brings their unique experience and wisdom to our work. For instance, board member Teresa Matsui shares her perspectives, particularly as an employer, in our Two Minutes With… video series.  

It is truly a pivotal time for workers, and I’m hopeful about what is possible when I see, in action, the organizations we support and the dedication of our board and staff. My colleagues work so hard to advance our North Star goal, support our grantees’ impact, and make the Foundation a wonderful place to work. I deeply value that. 

So, as I tell my kids, there is good stuff happening in our state. Yes, there are immense challenges, but there are also dedicated leaders, inspiring organizations, and passionate and effective advocates working to make this a better, more equitable state. (Now if I could just find a “good news” podcast for our car rides!) 

Masthead photo credit: Joyce Xi