Explaining Southern California's economy

Obama's executive order doesn't fix tech companies' immigration problem


Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

US President Barack Obama is seen on a screen in the White House briefing room during an address to the nation on immigration reform November 20, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Tech company executives and lobbyists have complained for years that the country's immigration system is hurting American competitiveness. Now some worry an executive order announced Thursday night by President Obama does far more to help workers than companies, and in the wake of a threatened Republican backlash, could make the problem worse.

"This certainly complicates things," said Emily S. Lam, Vice President, Health Care and Federal Issues for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a trade group representing nearly 400 Silicon Valley companies. "The executive action makes a difficult situation even more difficult." 

That's because the order couldn't do what tech companies most want: to increase the quota of H1-B visas allowing U.S. companies to hire highly skilled foreign workers. Changing the quota from its current limit of 65,000 workers a year requires congressional action, which could be further delayed because of Republican opposition to Obama's order.


Truckers stage another strike amid growing tension at ports of LA and Long Beach

lbct teamsters

Brian Watt / KPCC

Teamsters supporters watch trucks pass at the Long Beach Container Terminal in the Port of Long Beach.

A group of short haul truckers for companies that move goods at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach walked off the job Thursday, adding a layer of uncertainty at a port complex already grappling with a cargo backlog.

The truck drivers and the companies had been in a cooling-off period brokered by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to end a brief strike in July.  But the truckers, backed by the Teamsters Union, said the companies had gone back to punishing workers for supporting the union's organizing effort, and went back on strike.

Exactly how many truck drivers have stopped working isn’t clear. But Maria Elena Durazo of the LA County Federation of Labor told the truckers they have support.

"On your picket lines, you will find electricians, city workers, grocery workers, hotel workers, Wal-Mart workers," Durazo said at a rally at Wilmington's Waterfront Park. She didn't mention Longshore workers.


Falling gas prices fuel improvements at Hollywood tour company

Starline Tour bus in downtown LA

Brian Watt/KPCC

A double-decker Starline Tours bus makes a stop in downtown Los Angeles.

Starline Tour Bus in traffic

waltarrrrr/Flickr Creative Commons

"Hop-on, Hop-off" routes at Starline Tours cover more than a hundred miles, with 20 to 25 buses traveling regular schedules every day.

The price of a gallon of gas has now dipped below three dollars at many stations in the Los Angeles area, and that decline has freed up a lot of cash for LA-based Starline Tours

The Daily Fuel Gauge reported by the Automobile Club of Southern California put Tuesday's average Los Angeles-Long Beach area gas price at $3.24 per gallon, down 40 cents from a month ago and dropping more than a dollar from the $4.32 Angelenos were paying in early May. But the tracking site LosAngelesGasPrices.com listed stations with prices as low as $2.89 per gallon.

Mapping LA: Average price for regular unleaded gasoline

"We’re filling up every single day with our buses; so when we see these prices fall, it certainly directly helps us," says Phillip Ferentinors, director of Starline Tours of Hollywood.  "The lower fuel prices have allowed us to use some of the money instead on technology," Ferentinors told KPCC.  He says the company is now investing in upgrades of its systems for ticketing, reservations and internal communications. 


Retailers start feeling the pinch of West Coast port shipping delays

Kenneth Wu Guns

Corey Bridwell/KPCC

AirSplat CEO Kenneth Wu, in front of an aisle of airsoft guns.

Tensions keep building over congestion and delays at West Coast ports from Tacoma to Long Beach. Retailers and other businesses that depend on goods moving from cargo vessels to warehouses to store shelves are getting anxious, as shipping companies and the union representing dockworkers blame each other for the cargo slowdown

The owner of Irwindale-based AirSplat.com says whoever’s to blame, the cargo backlog is costing his company money.  

AirSplat sells paint ball and Airsoft guns, as well as the tiny pellets they fire.  Around 60 employees sell and fulfill orders out of an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Irwindale. A lot of the products come from China and Taiwan, traveling through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  AirSplat founder Kenneth Wu says he started seeing delays a month ago, and they've gotten worse.


From paratrooper to the workforce - USC program helps veterans conquer civilian life

Baker in Afghanistan

photo taken by Army specialist Justin Carrier

Jennifer Baker is pursuing a Master's of Business for Veterans at USC. She jumped out of airplanes and trained female Afghan police officers while serving as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army.

Jennifer Baker

Brian Watt/KPCC

28-year old Jennifer Baker is one of 50 students currently enrolled in the one-year Master's of Business for Veterans at USC.

There has been plenty of bad news about how tough it is for veterans to find their way in the civilian job market once they've completed their military service. A recent report found that a quarter of L.A.'s veterans were unemployed or earning near poverty wages.  One program attempting to address the problem is housed at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, where last year they began offering an MBA curriculum specifically designed for military veterans, with the intention of preparing them for professional jobs.

The idea came from military personnel who'd gone through the school's Executive MBA program. They felt a lot of the material was similar to what they'd learned during their military service, according to the program's director, James Bogle. "They asked if there wasn't a way to modify it a little bit for the military," says Bogle.