LOS ANGELES: After the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) policy director Rocio Avila stage-managed Carmel Foster’s April 3, 2019 Labor Committee testimony on AB5, she tasked Tina Vu Pham, gig economy organizer to monopolize Foster’s free time. Foster was given volunteer roles with illustrious titles such as, “Homecare Council Member” and “Gig Economy Worker Leader”. Foster was also a regular speaker at rallies, and contributed her story for additional legislative and committee testimony.
Foster felt like NDWA utilized her for her knowledge of both how these platform apps worked, and used her ideas and feedback to craft a “Vision of Fairness” for all domestic workers.
AB2314 – Private Employer: Domestic Worker bill
On March 13, 2018, Assemblyman Phil Ting introduced AB2314, the “Private Employer: Domestic Worker” bill that Foster said Ting crafted from her personal story. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez was co-author of this bill.
“By this time, Sarah no longer needed me to go to events with her to talk to immigrants in the Mission District,” recalls Foster. “This was when they were all passing me around like a rag doll while he was having this sexual affair with me. They knew I did not have enough energy and time to ever connect the dots.” – Carmel Foster
But despite their efforts to keep her spinning and confused, Foster was making those connections. She had her suspicions about Ting’s manipulation behind the scenes, and they were given more credence after the loss of a wage-theft claim on November 6, 2018. The suit was in result to a position in a private home.
The legal aid attorney Scott Hochberg, still representing Foster for her wage-theft claim, had been mostly MIA during the period leading up to testimonies on September 7, 2018. A week before the proceedings, he finally met with her to discuss the case.
“I meet with Scott in his office, and Scott says the case is coming up, we have a really good shot at winning this case,” he said. Scott continued telling Foster, “I know how it’s important for you to ensure that what you went through, what happened to you never happens to other people. We’ve taken all that into consideration and we have a very high-profile Assemblyman that will make sure that will never happen—His name is Phil Ting.”
Foster said she was shocked.
“I said, Phil Ting? I know Phil Ting,” she told Hochberg. “How is this going to play out with my wage theft case? So naturally, you can imagine what goes on in my mind because I had spoken to Maria before about Phil Ting.”
“I said, ‘Scott you are my attorney, I am going to say something to you now and this is client-attorney confidentiality. I am a little overwhelmed because I have been sleeping with Phil Ting all this time, and Maria knows it.’
According to Foster, Hochberg did not believe her. He said, No, you must be talking about somebody else.
Hochberg went on his computer and searched for Ting’s Assembly page, showing it to Foster. Foster confirmed that the man she was sleeping with and the “high-profile Assemblyman” were one and the same.
On November 6, 2018, her wage-theft claim was denied by the Labor Commissioner. Hochberg let Foster know she would receive no remuneration. At this point, she was still staying with the friend of Sarah Leadem’s and was hoping she could use the $22,000 that had been requested in back wages to get a permanent home. That was not to be.
Foster said Hochberg reassured her, Just so you know, you have rights. You can appeal it. But inexplicably, Hochberg said he could not handle the appeal. He said he would give her a list of attorneys.
Foster never heard from Hochberg again.
Two weeks later, after Thanksgiving, Foster was asked by Leadem’s friend to leave. Foster’s now-married daughter had recently relocated from Nevada back to California, so Foster was able to stay with her.
In an email dated January 21, 2019, Foster expressed to Hochberg her sadness over the fact that the wage-theft case had not been won, and intimated that Ting had a hand in this:
“I do believe [this decision] was a total injustice toward domestic workers. For me, even more so because of my relationship and affair with the author of AB2314. I feel so violated in so many ways. Unless I fix it, I am allowing abuse of power to penetrate even domestic workers. The domestic workers have been denied the right to protection under this bill AB2314 that protects workers in a private home. I am willing to name and shame the persons who violated me. He was aware of my work and took every step to steer me away from exercising my right to democracy. A humiliation in itself.”
Foster sent a long text message to Ting, confronting him about AB2314, wanting to know how her personal experience could have wound up being the text of a bill.
She followed up her text with a phone call to Ting. Ting admitted to nothing but Foster says he “sounded rattled.”
When Foster then received this April 18, 2019 email from Vu Pham about a change in legislative strategy, she had her confirmation that Ting was involved:
Foster now had the evidence that Avila was in negotiations with Ting and perhaps even her other handlers at NDWA. She also knew for certain that AB2314 was his brainchild and was now moving through the Labor Committee because Ting was the chair and had the power to move it forward.
It is an established fact that the big Labor Unions run Sacramento and pour large contributions into legislative campaigns. According to Follow the Money, both Ting and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez share the same donors, who pay large amounts to see them win in their chosen elections or re-elections.
Right before the AB5 Labor Committee hearing, Asm. Gonzalez announced she would be running for Secretary of State in 2022; so much of what is done in terms of the California Legislature has more to do with keeping the Union coffers full through favorable legislation. Thus ensuring their selected politicians win the next election. It has little to do with actually helping the California constituents who vote them into office.
The push for high profile bills that not only garner national, but international attention is the game plan of both Ting and Gonzalez.
Democrats Ting and Gonazalez attacking California Businesses
They want more headlines and name recognition to increase their currency for the State Controller and Secretary of State races. Hence, Gonzalez’s infamous Elon Musk “F*ck You” rant. (California pol tweets ‘F–k Elon Musk’ after the announcement to move Tesla)
You already did. That’s why he’s leaving.
— J. Rogers (@JimJollyRogers) May 10, 2020
What does it matter if you manipulate and almost destroy your own constituents while doing it? Destroy businesses and jobs?
NDWA has grown rapidly since its founding in 2007, with offices in Atlanta, Georgia; Seattle, Washington; New York, New York; and Durham, North Carolina. According to Influence Watch, it is affiliated with approximately 60 liberal organizations in 20 states.
Notable state-level affiliated groups include the Chinese Progressive Association of San Francisco.
When Foster did proposition campaigning work in 2016 on Propositions 55, 56, 57, and 58, the Chinese Progressive Association was the organization under whom she received her paycheck. According to Foster, none of the other campaign workers were paid in this way.
Foster had managed to connect another dot.
Foster continued to assist NDWA with their gig worker initiatives and even went to Atlanta, Georgia in 2018 to door knock for Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial race. Foster was partnered with NDWA’s co-founder Ai-jen Poo, but said she had no idea she was door-knocking with the head of the organization.
For whatever reason, Foster said Poo did not identify herself as such.
As time progressed, Foster became disenchanted with NDWA and their desire to control the narrative while mining her for information. The organization’s demand that she sign a membership document to continue being a volunteer leader was the last straw.
Foster said that as much as they discussed how they wanted to help “the worker”, and received what she felt was solid feedback and concepts from her experience, NDWA ultimately lacked actual solutions.
Foster very much wanted to give solutions to the workers she loved and respected. Along with her caregiver work, she started building her own business called My Character References. This platform allows domestic workers, care workers, and any gig workers to take the reviews they have on other platforms with them, even if they never work for that platform again.
AB2314 successfully passed the Assembly on May 30, 2018.
It went to the Senate and passed on August 23, 2018, but was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 22, 2018. However, Foster’s story coupled with astroturfed activism served the purpose of thrusting the California Domestic Workers Coalition into the spotlight. Governor Gavin Newsom coded an education and outreach funding award into the 2019-2020 State Budget. California Domestic Workers Coalition distributed a press release, touting it as a victory.
Journalist Katy Grimes of California Globe had this to say about this aspect of the legislative process:
“It’s sneaky and underhanded, but when lawmakers can’t get a bill passed through the proper channels, they will sneak it in to the budget bill or do a gut and amend.”
As Budget Committee chair, Asm. Phil Ting ensured his legislation became a reality for the state, one way or another.
In February 2020, Foster received an email from Avila asking to use her story again in defense of AB5.
Foster ignored the email and never responded. She was done with being used.
Even before AB5 was signed into law by Governor Newsom, it received considerable push back from the millions of independent contractors and freelancers adversely affected by it.
Even with Asm. Gonzalez’s attempts to dole out exemptions, there are several lawsuits to repeal the law wending through the courts. On the November 2020 ballot is an initiative sponsored by Uber and Lyft to exempt their drivers from the law.
Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a staunch champion for the repeal of AB5, is working on a similar initiative for the November 2022 ballot.
For her part, Foster regrets that she was tricked into championing the legislation.
“I especially feel so bad for all the independent contractors. Because of my testimony, there was no challenge, it was cast in an instant, and I really feel responsible,” Foster said.
“I want people to know that I was bamboozled. I really feel bad for AB5. It’s a violation of human rights.”
Foster made one last effort to allow Ting to admit he was the puppet master behind using her for both AB5 and AB2314. She made one last phone call to Ting on Chinese New Year, January 24, 2020.
Ting did not respond to her questions, expressing a lack of comprehension. Foster asked him to respond back to her either with a return text or a call and hung up. That was the last time Carmel Foster heard from “Peter” aka Phil Ting.
Asm. Phil Ting benefited greatly from Carmel Foster’s life story, even if he fails to acknowledge this. After Part 1 of this investigative series landed on Friday, June 19, Ting took to Twitter the next day to acknowledge the affair.
Ting not only did not mention Carmel Foster by name, but he also denies the affair affected his legislative work. Sadly, affairs are a dime a dozen in the political world. Indiscretions will not permanently derail one’s political future in the Democrat party. #MeToo be damned.
On the other hand, an ethics investigation could not only undo a career trajectory but could undo the legislation that has been passed into law because of those ethical failures.
Both Foster and this writer believe the evidence speaks for itself.
“When he came into my life, I lost more. He never paid for hotels. He didn’t care how I made it, how I got through,” Foster said.
“I was the one damaged.”
Foster was indeed damaged by a morally and ethically compromised legislator and legislative system. If we do not hold these people and the system they created to account, the people of the state of California will continue to suffer.
This is the final article of a three-part investigative series. Read also Part 1: Did CA Budget Chair Phil Ting use an extramarital affair to craft legislation? and Part 2: Carmel Foster, the political pawn of Phil Ting, L. Gonzalez and the AB5 bill
To view Carmel Fosters’s testimony for Lorena Gonzalez’ AB5 hearing in the Labor Committee on April 3, 2019, scroll to timecode 1:52: Labor Committee Hearing 04-03-2019