Six months ago, I was talking with one of my friends when they picked up their son from my house after a playdate. For so long, while their family relied on two incomes, they didn’t struggle to get by and they had what they needed.
That day, my friend told me that their reality completely shifted once gas prices spiked. I was shocked to learn that if my friend had to go in to her workplace rather than work from home, she literally could not afford to drive to work.
People across our district, just like my friend, were having to make unbelievable choices around the skyrocketing price of gas. Decisions like if they could afford their kid’s sports activities, medication, going to the doctor, paying rent, and putting food on the table for their families. And so many didn’t have the ability to work from home.
When I had this conversation with my friend, I was running for office, campaigning to become the new Assemblymember of the 40th District. Although I was a single mom, I quit my job to run for office, so I deeply understood the pain of my friend and her family. I told her I wouldn’t stop fighting until I figured out why gas prices spiked and how to fix it.
At the time, the average cost per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in California was $6.37, almost the highest we had ever seen and significantly higher than years prior. Based on the average state wage, someone needed to work nearly two hours just to fill up a 15-gallon tank of gas.
These costs were not sustainable for hard-working families in our community, and I was determined to do something about it.
Having worked in the labor movement for 20 years fighting so all families had the wages and benefits they needed to thrive, I was angry that so many were being forced to choose between food and gas.
But what I learned next made me even angrier: At the same time as gas prices were skyrocketing and families were hurting, oil companies made record profits. And even more, they acted completely irresponsibly by suddenly having six of eight oil refineries offline for maintenance … all at the same time.
This reduced the supply and artificially increased prices, which they passed on to all of us at the pump.
Think about that: Exxon, Chevron, Shell and others were making billions of dollars, more than they had ever made previously, all on the backs of hard-working families. Exxon made $55.7 billion, setting a company record and bringing in $6.3 million an hour, at the same time families couldn’t pay their bills.
If that doesn’t make you angry, I’ve got even more that will.
When we questioned the oil and gas industry in our Utility and Oil Committee about why gas prices were 30% higher in California than anywhere else in the country, they responded “supply and demand.”
They were hoping we wouldn’t understand that in Big Oil speak, “supply and demand” translates to, “We will charge whatever we can get away with.”
They were doing this because they could. Because for far too long, the oil and gas industry had a stronghold on our political system and used their immense wealth to buy legislative seats for people who would ensure they could continue to do whatever they wanted. Finally, there were enough of us to stand up and say “no more.” It was time to do something about it.
That’s why one of the first actions I took in Sacramento was to hold these oil and gas companies accountable so they are never again allowed to take advantage of hard-working families in our community, just so they could make record profits.
I was so proud when we passed the strongest state-level oversight and accountability measures on Big Oil in the nation. This new law we passed brings the transparency and accountability we need to shine a light on the oil company price gouging. It also creates a process to coordinate refinery maintenance schedules, and gives independent regulators the power to punish oil companies for gouging Californians at the pump — like they did last year.
I said this often on the campaign trail and it continues to be true today: I will never back down from standing up to corporations taking advantage of our community. No matter how powerful. No matter what they threaten … and they started with their threats the day after the bill was signed.
But at the end of the day, we’re stronger than billionaire corporations when we come together and fight for what’s right and to protect our community.
Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, represents the 40th Assembly District, which includes most of the Santa Clarita Valley in addition to the northwest San Fernando Valley. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.