In summary

Workers weigh in on gig economy bill. What’s being done to improve African-American maternal health. Should striking workers get unemployment insurance?

Good morning, California

“This is pretty heavy stuff we’re dealing with here. … I am concerned that we’re rushing this through with many members not fully understanding what we’re voting on.” —Assemblyman Al Muratsuch on legislation pushed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to stabilize electric utilities. The Torrance Democrat declined to vote yes or no on the bill in a committee Wednesday. He’ll have another chance today when the full Assembly votes.

Gig work bill: Who’s in, who’s out

Speakers voice their support for Lorena Gonzalez’s bill Wednesday.

The battle over who is and isn’t an employee in the gig economy—and who’s affected by the fight in the Legislature—came into sharper focus Wednesday. 

Hundreds of workers lined up outside the cramped Senate Labor Committee hearing room and took turns urging passage of Assembly Bill 5 by San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. 

  • That’s the labor-backed measure that would put into statute a 2018 California Supreme Court Dynamex decision that limits companies’ ability to use independent contractors, as CalMatters’ Judy Lin reported.
  • The bill is aimed at Uber, Lyft and a few other large gig economy companies, seeking to force them to provide basic benefits to workers.

Lobbyists for some professions declared their support, including insurance brokers, physicians, investment advisers and Realtors. 

The reason: The legislation specifies that they will not be covered by its provisions and can remain independent.

Representatives of many others testified that they, too, want to be exempted, ranging from court interpreters to loggers. 

  • Representing the Recording Artists of America, lobbyist Carl London sought an exemption for the “original gig economy.” Musicians, he said, want the flexibility to play for different bands and studios without being classified as employees.

No surprise: The Senate Labor Committee approved the bill. But senators urged Gonzalez to refine the bill.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Santa Barbara Democrat: “We don’t want to put a ceiling on innovation.”

African-American maternal health

race bias in health care black women maternal mortality
Bettye Jean Ford lost her first child after a premature birth.

California is held up as a national success for improving maternal outcomes, but not for one group: African-American mothers, CalMatters’ Adria Watson finds.

Based on various experts, Watson reports:

  • Black babies in California are three times as likely to die than white babies.
  • Preterm birth rates among black mothers is nearly twice that of white mothers.
  • The maternal mortality rate of black women is four times higher than white women.
  • Racial disparities in California are as wide as they are nationally, if not worse.

What’s being done:

Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, is carrying Senate Bill 464 to:

  • Make California the first in the nation to mandate implicit bias training at hospitals and birthing centers.
  • Require coroners to list whether a woman was pregnant within 42 days of death, or within 43 to 365 days of death, on death certificates.

Pro-con: The California Hospital Association, the California Nurse-Midwives Association, as well as women and anti-poverty groups, are backing the bill.

Doctors call it too abstract and unenforceable. 

California Medical Association spokesman Anthony York: “It’s not a question of whether this training is needed, just how best to do it.”

Benefits for striking workers?

A bill would give some striking workers unemployment benefits.

As grocery workers consider strikes against major Southern California supermarket chains, legislation to give striking workers unemployment benefits took another step to becoming law on Wednesday.

The bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Democrat, says workers would become entitled to unemployment insurance checks after they’ve been on strike for four or more weeks. 

  • New York and New Jersey have such a law.

Gonzalez said the benefit could help striking workers keep their homes.

The added benefit would add 0.1% to costs in the unemployment insurance fund, a labor lobbyist said.

Few strikes last four weeks. But in testimony Wednesday, United Food and Commercial Workers representatives cited the Southern California grocery strike that lasted for four months in 2003 and 2004

Grocery workers voted to authorize strikes against the Southern California supermarket chains last month. California Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski told me: “With some luck, they will get a deal.”

The California Chamber of Commerce contends the legislation:

  • Goes against the point of unemployment insurance, which is to provide a safety net for people who are laid off.
  • Would politicize unemployment insurance.
  • Could push the unemployment insurance fund toward insolvency.

The Senate Labor Committee approved the bill; it faces more obstacles.

Separately, the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation issued a statement Wednesday offering Southern California grocery workers help if they want to decertify their union.

Charter schools, achievement gap

Bills impacting charter school growth continue to become law.

Legislation to curb charter school expansion cleared another hurdle Wednesday, as hundreds of educators and parents crowded into the Capitol to speak out on the measures.

Pro-con: Teachers unions are backing Assembly Bill 1505 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, a Long Beach Democrat, and AB 1507 by Assemblywoman Christy Smith, Santa Clarita Democrat. Charter school advocates are opposing them.

Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda was the lone Democrat on the Senate Education Committee to vote against the charter bills. He said the Legislature is focused too heavily on the charter school fight, not student outcome. 

What’s next: Senate Appropriations Committee. Expect the bills to pass.

Take a number: $350,000

California utility companies have made monetary donations to state parties.

Edison International donated $200,000 to the California Republican Party on July 2 and $150,000 to the California Democratic Party on July 8. The donations come as Democratic and Republican legislators prepare to cast final votes on bills intended to provide financial stability for Edison’s subsidiary, Southern California Edison.

San Diego Gas & Electric is seeking relief in the Legislature, too. Its parent, Sempra Energy, has donated $269,200 to state politicians and parties. Unlike Edison, however, Sempra spread its donations over the year, rather than doling out campaign checks immediately ahead of votes on the key legislation.

Commentary at CalMatters

Maurice Goens, Advance Peace: Police are not the only solution to battling street violence. In Stockton, the community group Advance Peace is helping stop shootings.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: The bottom line of another electric utility overhaul is uncertain. Aides of Gov. Gavin Newsom promise that the effect on power bills will be minimal. There’s also no real limit on ratepayer burdens for future catastrophic wildfires.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.

Barbara is a master's student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she studies new media. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Sacramento State, where she served as editor...