SEIU 521, elected officials lead caravan protest demanding billionaires to ‘pay their fair share’

With horns blaring non-stop, a caravan of 100 cars led by a local union made its way through Atherton on July 11 to demand that billionaires do their part to help the racial and social inequities that have risen to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness during the Covid-19 crisis.

SEIU 521 led a brigade of Bay Area workers, labor leaders and elected officials on a 2 ½ hour ride through Atherton, specifically targeting four billionaires—Jan Koum, George Roberts, Mark Stevens and Douglas Leone—three of the four whose wealth reportedly increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Assemblymember Ash Kalra [D-CA 27 District 27] was in one of the caravans to voice his support to raise taxes on billionaires.

“Every single worker contributed to the wealth of the 161 billionaires who live in California,” Kalra said in a statement. “Now is the time to ensure the Legislature and the Governor understand that ‘enough is enough.’ We want to make sure that we take care of the families who provide public services like our nurses, librarians, and government workers. I’m committed to taxing the billionaires so that all of us have access to the California dream.”

Ash wasn’t the only elected official who voiced support to raise taxes on billionaires, as Assemblymember Rob Bonta [D-CA District 18] and San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa joined Kalra via Zoom during the caravan “protest.” Otto Lee, who is running for election to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for District 3, also joined via Zoom.

SEIU 521 member Ryan Thurwachter-King rode in one of the caravans to voice—er, honk—his support for a more progressive tax policy on some of the wealthiest people in the nation. A mental health clinician at Momentum for Mental Health, Thurwachter has seen firsthand the toll Covid-19 has taken in the health care sector.

“Californians are losing health insurance and relying on public aid like Medi-Cal even as corporations are sitting on billions of profits and growing richer,” he said. “Health workers are asked to do more with less, and all of my clients’ needs have increased dramatically. California currently doesn’t have enough funds for vital services.”

According to the SEIU, Koum has a net worth of $10 billion, Roberts $6.2 billion, Leone $4.6 billion and Stevens $3.1 billion. The caravan protestors left banners on each of the billionaires’ gates with the hashtags, TaxCABillionaires and CommitToEquity. SEIU’s coalition partner, Commit to Equity, states the “tax burden for the working and middle class is much higher than for the wealthy and has only grown more so over time when considered all taxes paid at all levels of government. This regressive system of taxation helps drive inequality.”

Commit to Equity has proposed a wealth tax on the ultra-rich, which would force them to pay taxes based on their total net worth, rather than their income. According to Commit to Equity, the ultra-rich only pay taxes on a fraction of their wealth. If the aforementioned billionaires paid their fair share of taxes, SEIU reasoned, it would help jumpstart the state’s economy and begin addressing the racial and social inequities that have been illuminated during the pandemic.

“Most, if not all the billionaires we targeted have been amassing substantial wealth since the Covid-19 crisis started,” Thurwachter-King said. “Those who have benefited the most should pay their fair share of taxes.”

 

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