State legislature passes many important labor bills

This year’s legislative session came to one of its weirder ends in recent memory. Perhaps it was the full moon or the fact that it was Friday the 13th. Whatever the reason, it was crazy.

The halls were packed with protesters, mostly from the so-called “anti-vax” movement. These folks were there to protest the Legislature’s passage and ultimately the Governor’s signature on two bills to toughen our state’s vaccination laws. I’ve seen many protests over the years—human rights groups, animal rights groups, even Avon ladies—but I’ve never seen one as disruptive and confrontational as the anti-vaxers. They disrupted hearings and the floor session, banged on office doors and walls, yelled, and, in some instances, got in the face of anyone who looked at them too long. One assaulted a Senator a few blocks from the Capitol. All of this culminated in one of them dumping blood from the gallery onto the Senate floor, hitting five legislators. 

Kudos to legislators, their staff, and law enforcement for keeping their cool. While there were many delays, including moving the entire Senate to a large hearing room since the Senate floor became a crime scene, the session finally ended at around 3 a.m. Hundreds of bills were sent to the Governor, including many that we either sponsored or supported. Here are some of the more important measures we worked on that are sitting on Governor Newsom’s desk awaiting signature.

Misclassifying gig workers

AB 5 by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), which codifies the Dynamex decision, was the most talked-about bill of the year. Our union, along with the State Fed and the Building Trades, pushed this one over the top. It’s probably the most important bill for workers and unions in my 21 years of doing this work as it should put an end to misclassification in many of our core industries. And I’m happy to report that the governor signed it as I was writing this article.

Paychecks for UC workers

SB 698 by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino) would provide for penalties when our members at the University of California aren’t paid on time or correctly or the proper deductions aren’t made from their paychecks. The UC system has switched to a new payroll system and there has been nothing but problems, including members not getting a paycheck for months.  UC is immune from labor code violations under current law so they have little incentive to get it right. This bill will change that by making UC financially accountable if they screw up.

Healthcare rate reviews

 AB 731 by Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) would apply the state’s current healthcare rate review law to large group plans like the ones Teamsters have. Any substantial increase in rates would trigger a review by the regulator to determine if the rates are reasonable and justified. This has worked pretty well in the individual and small group health insurance market and our hope is that this bill, if signed, will help reign in the outrageous rate increases we’ve seen over the years.

Ending forced arbitration

AB 51 by Assembly Member Gonzalez would prohibit employers from requiring a waiver of labor or employment rights as a condition of employment. This really goes to the heart of forced arbitration. A worker should not have to waive important employment protections like misclassification or protection from discrimination in order to work. The growth in forced arbitration is incredible, particularly with so-called gig work. Many of the rights we take for granted can be violated and the aggrieved worker can only go to the arbitrator chosen and paid for by the employer. A fair outcome is unlikely under these circumstances. AB 51 will hopefully put an end to this practice.

Paid release time for public sector unions

AB 314 by Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) would establish minimum statewide standards for paid release time for public sector union activity. The differences and holes in current law have undermined the ability of public employee union members to exercise their rights and participate in their union. 

Disclose economic development subsidies

AB 485 by Assembly Member Jose Medina (D-Riverside) would require local governments to disclose the economic development subsidies they grant for building a warehouse distribution center in their jurisdiction. As we’ve seen the growth of giant distribution centers like those built by Amazon and others, we’ve seen millions of taxpayer dollars thrown at multibillion-dollar companies to locate in a particular place. Many of these facilities undermine the local economy by providing low-wage, no-benefit jobs just so a city or county can increase sales tax revenue. This is short-sighted and economically detrimental to workers and taxpayers alike. A little sunshine on the tax giveaways could go a long way toward smarter development where everyone benefits, especially the workers.

New Oakland stadium

AB 1191 by Assembly Member Rob Bonta paves the way for the new Oakland A’s stadium.  While this bill was somewhat controversial within labor because of the proposed stadium location at Howard Terminal, it won support in the end because of the importance of retaining a professional sports team in Oakland and number of good union jobs created, including Teamster jobs.

Cap rent increases

AB 1428 by Assembly Member David Chiu (D- San Francisco) would create a statewide cap on rent increases. There’s no question that we have a housing crisis in California. Workers, even those with good-paying union jobs, are finding it increasingly hard to live near where they work, forcing many to make long commutes, significantly impacting quality of life. Some workers find it impossible to get affordable housing and are forced to live out of their cars or worse. As a result, we are engaging more and more on housing issues and this bill is one important step among many the state needs to take to address this problem.

Local control of charter schools

AB 1505 by Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) would provide greater school district control of charter schools. We have seen too many fly-by-night corporations come into communities with promises of big improvements to the local education system, only to find out that they siphon our tax dollars for profit and routinely break those promises. They also like to union bust. This bill will help ensure that our children come first and educators and staff aren’t sacrificed in order to achieve greater profits.