The California Legislature, as noted in this space previously, has a shameful history of exempting itself from the countless laws it imposes on everyone else.
Last week, the Assembly’s Public Employment, Retirement and Social Security Committee had a golden opportunity to close one of the Capitol’s many hypocritical loopholes.
But, true to historic form, its members muffed it.
The Legislature’s dominant Democrats have bent over backwards to help unions organize workers in private and public employment, from those who work in the state’s agricultural fields to those who build electric cars for Tesla. And a substantial number of those legislators are former union members and organizers themselves.
However, the Legislature’s own employees are forbidden to join unions. They are “at will” workers who can be fired by their bosses at a moment’s notice and for any reason with no recourse.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat and a former union official herself, proposed to close that loophole but ran into obvious reluctance from her colleagues and legislative leaders.
Finally, the Assembly leadership agreed to give her measure, Assembly Bill 2028, a committee hearing, during which she called the legislative exemption the “height of hypocrisy.”
Gonzalez Fletcher reminded committee members that the Capitol had been wracked by “scandal after scandal about sexual harassment and retaliation” that underscored employee powerlessness. Allowing legislative employees to join a union, she said, would give them protection against being punished if they complain about ill treatment.
A number of legislators and senior legislative staffers have been accused of harassment and investigations have proved many of the accusations to be valid. The Legislature has incurred heavy payments to settle harassment and retaliation lawsuits, several legislators have been forced to resign, several others have been admonished and still more investigations are underway.
Coby Pizzotti, a former legislative employee who now lobbies for a public employee union, told the committee of the menial tasks he was forced to perform as the aide to a legislator, including running personal errands and babysitting the legislator’s children.
“I was afraid to speak up then,” Pizzotti said, adding that when he finally did complain to the legislator’s chief of staff, he was fired.
Representatives of several major unions and the California Labor Federation also voiced support for the bill, but it wasn’t enough.
Two Democratic Assembly members, Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside and Freddie Rodriguez of Pomona, the committee chairman, voted for AB 2048. Democrat Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova, a member of the Assembly’s leadership cadre, and Republican William Brough of Dana Point voted against it. Other members didn’t vote, thereby killing the measure.
So why wouldn’t a Legislature otherwise closely allied with the state’s unions agree to have its own employees be unionized?
Privately, Gonzalez Fletcher says, she runs into assertions that the Legislature is unique and that having unions would inhibit its functions.
In effect, therefore, legislators have the same objections to unionization that other employers often express when the Legislature passes laws to facilitate organizing their workers.
That is, as Gonzalez Fletcher told the committee, the “height of hypocrisy.”