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News Analysis: Unions Win Big in California Legislature

As California state senators passed a bill Thursday evening aimed at granting unemployment benefits to strikersunions had already won several monumental victories in the state Legislature.

They reached a major deal to raise fast-food wages to $20 an hour. They convinced lawmakers to pass a bill requiring driverless trucks to have a human safety driver. They persuaded the Democratic-led legislature to send Gov. Gavin Newsom a bill giving all California workers a minimum of five paid sick leave – versus the current requirement of three.

So when it came time to vote to allow strikers to receive unemployment benefits, an exasperated Republican senator stood up to argue that businesses couldn’t stay afloat if their workers could get paid while on picketing. strike.

“Frankly, dear colleagues, I will say it. I think a lot of people are thinking about it,” said Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield).

“The fourth branch of government in this Capitol building,” she said, referring to unions, “has a little too much power this year.”

Moments later, the bill passed.

The union energy that fueled strikes by actors, writers and hotel workers this summer has clearly reached Sacramento’s corridors of power this year. Even in a Capitol where unions have long wielded influence, the unions’ string of victories has been remarkable. It remains to be seen whether Newsom will sign Labor’s legislative victories into law — he has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto bills passed this year.

But by the time lawmakers made their decision for the year Thursday evening, unions had also persuaded Parliament to pass a bill gradually increasing the minimum wage to $25 per hour for people who work in healthcare settings — including janitors, security guards, laundry workers and hospital gift shop workers — and another to make California the first in the nation to include housekeepers, nannies and others domestic staff in laws requiring health and safety protections.

They also won passage of a bill allowing employees working for the Legislature to organize unions – a proposal that had repeatedly failed in the past.

And even though it won’t get a vote in the Legislature until next year, a new bill presented in the last days of THE session shows lawmakers’ willingness to fight for entertainment industry strikers. The legislation would give actors and artists a way to overturn vague contract provisions that allow studios and other companies to use artificial intelligence to digitally clone their voices, faces and bodies.

The tug-of-war between workers and businesses is a constant at the California Capitol. But this year brought some new elements that were added in favor of Labor: several new progressive-leaning legislators, a new Speaker of the Assembly, Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), that has put its muscle behind some union priorities, and the ongoing strikes in Southern California that have prompted many politicians to publicly side with workers.

The strikes “helped people see the humanity involved,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who heads the California Federation of Labor, the state’s branch of the AFL-CIO.

Then-Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher rallied behind her worker-supported legislation in 2019.

(Associated Press)

A state legislator herself until two years ago, Gonzalez Fletcher passed a law in 2019 to provide unemployment benefits to striking workers, but she didn’t progress very far.

“When I raised the issue of strikers last time…most of my fellow legislators probably hadn’t seen a picket line, hadn’t talked to a striker. It’s been years since we had a major strike,” she said.

Today, many Los Angeles lawmakers have constituents on strike. They have news of them. They show up on the picket lines. They’re getting “more first-hand accounts and it becomes a lot more real,” Gonzalez Fletcher said.

“Legislators are representatives of their community. And what we know is that in every community in California… more and more people are turning to unions and unions as a way to resize this economy, as a way to balance against the billionaires and against the businesses.

Across the country, a recent Gallup poll found, unions enjoy strong public support, with two-thirds of Americans saying they approve of unions. The survey also asked people about their side — unions or companies — in three major labor disputes involving actors, writers and auto workers. Overwhelming majorities sided with the unions in all three cases.

The California Chamber of Commerce, labor’s main opponent at the state Capitol, rejected the idea that unions were big winners in the Legislature.

“The reality is that no one won. California’s workers, taxpayers and competitiveness will lose out if some of the onerous policies passed by the Legislature are ultimately enacted,” Jennifer Barrera, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

“If California employers face higher costs, more litigation risk, and additional bureaucracy…that leaves fewer resources to invest in areas like clean energy, worker wages, benefits social and innovation. These policies will reduce job growth and ultimately lead to less tax revenue to support education, health care, housing and infrastructure.

Rivas, the new Assembly speaker, pledged support for the $25 minimum wage for health care workers days after taking the powerful leadership post earlier this summer. He then quickly got to work negotiating with unions, hospitals and health clinics to reach an agreement to amend the bill to slow the pace of wage increases and stagger the increases depending on where employees work.

He also put his name to two labor-backed measures that emerged at the end of the session that will ask voters to change the threshold for approving taxes and bonds on the ballot. One is a direct attack on a business-backed ballot measure that aims to make it harder for voters to approve taxes.

After the session ended Thursday evening, reporters asked Rivas about the workforce at the Capitol this year.

“I think this is the time we live in,” Rivas said. “We are facing an affordability crisis. Our state’s middle (and) low-income residents are struggling.

The ball is now heading to Newsom’s court. He has until Oct. 14 to decide which of the hundreds of bills the Legislature sent him in the final weeks of the session will become law. Barrera, Gonzalez Fletcher and the interests they represent will spend much of the next month pressuring him for a signature or veto.

The Teamsters will launch Tuesday, Gonzalez Fletcher said, when they plan to drive their large vehicles to the Capitol to pressure Newsom to sign the bill requiring human drivers in self-driving trucks. It’s an example of how unions are working to protect workers as technology advances, whether on the highways or in Hollywood studios.

“We’re going to continue to look at different areas where advanced technology is creeping into the workplace,” Gonzalez Fletcher said.

So far, the Newsom administration has argued that requiring human drivers in robotic trucks would hinder innovation and competitiveness. And he was careful in take sides in Hollywood strikes. Newsom has repeatedly warned that he would not sign bills that impose costs on the state that are not reflected in the budget, and he said this week that he concerned about unemployment insurance fund debt.

Ultimately, the governor has the last word – unless Democrats take the extremely rare, virtually nuclear option and override his veto, which this hasn’t happened in Sacramento since 1980.

Los Angeles Times

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