We had quite a year in 2017 at the California Legislature. While there was so much bad news coming from Washington D.C., California became the leading state voice for what some have called the progressive pro-worker resistance. Like every year, the Teamsters were at the forefront of that fight. We were instrumental in passing some of the most important legislation in decades, and we were successful in our own legislative program to pass bills to advance our members’ interests. Below is a summary of some of the more important bills we worked on.
Every year, we take ideas that will resolve some problem our members face or help advance an issue, and we ask a legislator to author a bill on the subject. We then shepherd the bill all the way through the legislative process and hopefully to enactment through the governor’s signature. This is referred to as “sponsoring” a bill. This year we had several.
AB 695 by Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra (D, San Fernando) was introduced on behalf of maintenance- of-way members in our Rail Conference. The bill ensures that California motorists must yield to on-track maintenance equipment operated by our members. This was an important safety bill that passed unanimously through the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Brown.
SB 17 by Senator Ed Hernandez (D, Azusa) was introduced to address the growing problem of prescription drug costs. The cost of prescriptions now exceeds the cost of all physician services combined and the steep price increases seem to be happening at an alarming rate. This affects the level of healthcare we can provide to our members and the amount of money available on the bargaining table for raises and other benefits. In order to help grapple with this problem, SB 17 requires transparency when a drug company wants to substantially increase its prices and requires prior notice to purchasers so they can plan for the increase. The bill was signed into law by the Governor.
AB 1068 by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D, San Diego) was introduced to help low-level offenders find employment after incarceration in county jail and to help us organize them once they are employed. The measure would have offered a bid preference for companies that provide services or sell goods to state agencies if they hire certain formerly incarcerated persons, provide healthcare and pension benefits, and sign a labor peace agreement. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed this bill because he disagreed with the level of contracting preferences offered. We will likely revisit this one.
We were also deeply involved in some very important pieces of legislation that became law this year.
SB 1 by Senator Jim Beall (D, San Jose) was the culmination of years of negotiation on how to fund desperately needed improvements to our transportation and transit systems. The bill increases various gas taxes and fees on autos to pump $52 billion in funding over the next ten years to the repair and construction of roads and highways. It also funds transit infrastructure improvements and provides an increase to transit operations funding. This funding package will create thousands of construction and transit jobs over the next decade and will provide relief to the congestion that grips working commuters every day. The Governor signed the bill into law in the spring, and the funding began to come in the fall.
SB 2 by Senator Toni Atkins (D, San Diego) is designed to address one of California’s most vexing problems, affordable housing. The bill creates a permanent and ongoing source of funding for housing. The timing of this bill is incredibly important because we anticipate a loss of housing money from the federal government and some bond funds at the state level have begun to run out.
SB 306 by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D, Van Nuys) was introduced to put some teeth in California’s anti-retaliation laws. As we all know, in a nonunion environment, if a worker complains about safety issues, wage and hour violations, or tries to organize a union, that worker is often fired. This form of retaliation has negative consequences for the worker and the other employees at the worksite. Simply put, they see what happens to people who try to do the right thing and it has a chilling effect. Even if there is an enforcement action by the Labor Commissioner or through litigation, it may take years to resolve and the aggrieved worker is still out of the worksite. SB 306 seeks to remedy this situation by allowing the Labor Commissioner to seek injunctive relief where a worker has been terminated in retaliation. The injunctive relief includes putting the employee back to work immediately.
SB 595 by Senator Jim Beall (D, San Jose) is another transportation funding bill focused on the Bay Area. It authorizes a ballot measure in the Bay Area counties to raise bridge tolls to fund transportation and public transit projects that provide congestion relief, particularly around the bridge corridors as well as around the Ports of Oakland and San Francisco. This will, of course, create jobs and will hopefully provide some much needed relief to the traffic Bay Area commuters face on a daily basis.
AB 398 by Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (D, Coachella) extends and reforms California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The original law, passed in 2006, sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a market based mechanism that would allow businesses to comply with reduction requirements. The law has been under attack by many in the business community as a job killer. AB 398 is designed to address many of those concerns while leaving intact the ability to reduce global warming. AB 398 puts in place several reforms that help Teamster employers, like those in food processing, cut greenhouse gas emissions in a way that will not negatively impact their ability to compete economically and to continue to employ our members.
AB 450 by Assembly Member David Chiu (D, San Francisco) was introduced as a response to the Trump administration’s ramped up immigration enforcement tactics. This year, it became increasingly common to see I.C.E. raids at businesses that were thought to employ undocumented workers. These raids often happen without a warrant and those carrying them out often do so in disregard for the rights of every worker they come into contact with. This bill seeks to address these tactics by prohibiting an employer from letting an immigration enforcement officer enter a worksite area not open to the public or inspect employment records without a warrant. This new law will impose big fines for employers who violate its requirements.