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Carson, California, Voters Tax Big Oil to Keep Services Flowing

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
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By Erica Zeitlin, AFSCME District Council 36 Worth the Fight Success Story Legislation Politics and Elections State & Local Budgets

Carson, California, employees from AFSCME Locals 809 and 1017 (Council 36) are celebrating the success of levying a crucial sales tax measure on Big Oil, a political win that was as improbable as it was resounding.

A group of deep-pocketed oil companies ran a formidable effort to kill the measure, spending nearly three-quarters of a million dollars on negative campaign ads. By contrast, labor spent less than $22,000 to promote the measure.

The two AFSCME locals allied themselves with Mayor Albert Robles, a unanimous City Council, and other Measure C proponents to educate the community about the benefits of this tax. The city is projected to raise an additional $24 million per year to sustain vital municipal services including public safety. Ana Meni, president of Local 809, led up the “Yes on C” effort on the labor side. The measure was approved by an overwhelming 72 percent of voters on November 7.

“We kicked Big Oil in the pants, even though they outspent us by more than 30 to 1,” Meni said. “They pulled every trick to deceive the voters, but this community would not be fooled.”

Pipeline owners Kinder Morgan and Shell Oil, as well as Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co., which purchased BP’s Carson refinery in 2013, will be affected by the tax, which requires them to pay the City one-fourth of 1 percent on their gross revenue.

The ballot victory is also significant for the community because it reflects an underlying cultural and political awakening in this predominantly blue-collar, heavily-minority area.

Bob Adams, a Council 36 business representative, assisted in recruiting foot soldiers in AFSCME to walk precincts to get out the vote. AFSCME District Council 36, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and other local employee associations contributed funds to the “Yes on C” campaign, according to Adams.