Founded in 1995, Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that views "income inequality" as a serious societal problem. The organization's primary mission is to “close the gap between rich and poor in Silicon Valley.” Since its inception, WPUSA has worked to build “sustained labor-community alliances with religious groups and Hispanic and immigrant communities.”
Amy Dean, former President and CEO of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, the 15th largest labor federation in the U.S. with over 90 unions, created WPUSA as a sister organization to the Council. One of the Dean’s primary goals was “to make collective bargaining available to every single worker.”
In 2003, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, a leading organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), replaced Dean as the Executive Director of WPUSA and the Labor Council. During her tenure, Ellis-Lamkins steered WPUSA toward progressive environmentalism, allying with Joel Rogers’ Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), Van Jones’ Green For All, the California Green Stimulus Coalition, and the Greenbelt Alliance.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama appointed Van Jones as his “green jobs czar,” Ellis-Lamkins left WPUSA to replace Jones as CEO of Green For All. She also sits on the boards of Joel Rogers’ other green groups, the Apollo Alliance and the Emerald Cities Collaborative. Her vacated post at WPUSA was filled in 2009 by Cindy Chavez, longtime member of the Labor Council. Chavez had previously served on the San Jose City Council from 1998 to 2004, and as Vice-Mayor of the city from 2004 to 2006.
WPUSA’s board of directors is composed of leaders of the labor federations, AFL-CIO, SEIU, and UNITE HERE!.
WPUSA receives funding from the California Endowment, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice of California, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the French American Charitable Trust, the Friedman Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the McKay Foundation, the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the New World Foundation, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the San Francisco Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Solidago Foundation, the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, and the Women’s Foundation of California.
Besides the Rogers/Jones green network, WPUSA also works in partnership with, among many others, the ACLU, ACORN, Californians For Justice, the Center on Policy Initiatives, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice of California, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Interfaith Worker Justice, People Acting for Communities Together, the U.C. Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, and Urban Habitat.
WPUSA has created a number of prominent labor-oriented groups. In 2003, Dean and Ellis-Lamkins launched the Partnership for Working Families, aiming to expand the green economy. Two years later, in collaboration with SCOPE, WPUSA established a sister organization, Building Partnerships USA, which was designed to create new progressive groups throughout the country.
Advocating for universal health care and living-wage policies, WPUSA runs two long-term projects:
- The Leadership Network (LeaderNet): This initiative organizes South Bay’s leaders to “take effective action in advancing progressive social and political objectives.” Each community leader joining LeaderNet participates in its Working Partnerships Leadership Institute, a twelve-week education and leadership-training seminar.
- The Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice (ICEJ): This is an association of faith leaders who educate the religious community to support “economic and social justice” by bringing “labor in[to] the pulpit.” ICEJ is allied with a number of interfaith organizations, including the Center on Policy Initiatives, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice of California, the East Bay Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and Kim Bobo’s Interfaith Worker Justice.
In 2009, WPUSA founder Amy Dean published A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the Labor Movement, calling for a new era of bigger government. Writing in the Daily Kos a year later, Dean blamed the Reagan administration for America’s economic troubles. With Barack Obama’s new jobs program, she claimed, a new era had begun:
“[F]or the first time since the 1930s, we have leadership in Washington that recognizes that government has a bigger role to play in the economy–that it is not just a spectator watching on the sidelines, but can use its influence to actively help bring about the broadly shared prosperity that business will never be able to create on its own.”