Will LA’s New Mayor Karen Bass Reset the City’s Labor and Housing Markets?

Incoming Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has racked up a formidable progressive voting record in Congress over the past decade. Having withstood a $100 million spending barrage from her opponent, Rick Caruso, in the mayor’s race, she will have an opportunity as head of the country’s second-largest city to realize her political vision on the ground in Southern California.

Unions and community organizations that have launched campaigns in recent years for higher wages and better working conditions, for more affordable housing, and for stronger protections for service sector employees believe there is a real chance for big changes in LA.

UNITE:HERE Local 11, the SEIU, AFSCME, and other unions at the forefront of labor organizing in the city backed Bass’s candidacy early on. The unions are particularly focused on a series of global sports events to be held in the city over the coming years, which  will result in huge investments in infrastructure, in transport, in hotels—and, they hope, in affordable housing.

There are the 2026 World Cup soccer games; LA is one of 11 US host cities, with other cities in Canada and Mexico also involved in the billion-dollar spectacle. And there are the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. There are also college football championship games next month and the US Open golf championships this coming June.

As we’ve seen with the 2022 Qatar world cup—where hundreds, if not thousands, of migrant laborers have died on construction projects over the past few years—vulnerable workers often end up being considered disposable as cities and countries seek to erect sparkling new infrastructure.

Qatar represents an extreme example of inequality: An astounding 90 percent of the population is made up of migrant workers, many of whom suffer routine wage theft, confiscation of their identity documents, and other violations of basic rights. But the country isn’t alone in sacrificing the well-being of those who build and staff global sporting events in order to present a shiny spectacle to the world’s sporting fans. Hundreds of migrants workers are also thought to have died building the facilities for the Sochi Winter Olympics that were held in Russia in 2014.

So, too, vulnerable residents often get swept aside by big development projects. Some reports suggest that more than 1 million Beijing residents were forcibly relocated to make way for the 2008 OIympics infrastructure. Eight years later, tens of thousands were displaced in low-income Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods as Brazil readied itself to host the Games. The London Olympics, in 2012, were widely praised for redeveloping large parts of the East End. But the effect of that redevelopment was skyrocketing real estate prices that ended up excluding many locals from the housing market.

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