When it comes to organized labor, Gov. Gavin Newsom giveth and Gov. Gavin Newsom taketh away.

The governor on Wednesday signed into law one of the most controversial union-backed bills of the year, which takes aim at warehouse speed quotas that became infamous when reports surfaced of Amazon workers urinating in water bottles due to a lack of time to go to the bathroom. The new law requires warehouses to inform employees of work speed standards and the consequences for failing to meet them. It also prevents workers from being penalized for complying with health and safety laws — like going to the restroom — that slow the pace of their work.

But that win for the labor movement was somewhat offset by Newsom vetoing a bill that would have allowed farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections — a setback that comes just months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state law allowing union organizers to meet with farmworkers on growers’ property. “I’m truly devastated that Gavin Newsom vetoed the most important union organizing bill of the year,” tweeted Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat and author of the warehouse bill. “Happy Hispanic Heritage Month.”

United Farm Workers, whose members on Wednesday began a 260-mile march from the Central Valley to Sacramento to urge Newsom to sign the vote-by-mail bill, tweeted, “Workers are now marching towards the French Laundry, hoping to finally meet with the Governor.”

The back-and-forth underscores a central tension in California’s labor movement: Unions represent just 16% of the state’s more than 15 million workers — a steep decline from the 1950s, when more than 40% of California’s workforce was unionized. A group of Newsom’s advisors recently argued the state should help workers form unions to reduce inequality and improve job quality. But would that help? And will workers re-embrace unions in an increasingly tech-based economy? CalMatters’ California Divide team answers those questions and more in a comprehensive explainer exploring labor’s role in California in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, another battle between labor and business groups is heating up ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline that marks the end of California’s expanded sick leave program, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports. Business groups say they can’t afford to extend the pandemic policy any longer; employees say they can’t afford to take time off without pay and don’t want to endanger others by coming into work sick.


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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 4,434,696 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 67,774 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 48,792,111 vaccine doses, and 69.5% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters is tracking the results of the Newsom recall election and the top 21 bills state lawmakers sent to Newsom’s desk.


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1. A busy rest of the year

Image via iStock

California’s pandemic paid sick leave program isn’t the only thing expiring on Sept. 30. Here’s a look at some key deadlines coming up and what they mean for the Golden State:

2. Cities crack down on crime, protests

A police offer wears a gas mask during a demonstration on May 29, 2020 in downtown Oakland. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

As Newsom decides whether to sign a package of bills that would reform California’s criminal justice system — such as by creating a process to yank badges from bad cops, offering greater access to police records and protecting protesters from rubber bullets — some of the cities that slashed law enforcement budgets in the wake of George Floyd’s murder now appear to be backtracking amid an uptick in homicides and violent crime. On Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a plan to crack down on organized retail theft by hiring more police investigators and community ambassadors and upgrading an online crime reporting system. On Tuesday — a day after Oakland saw its 100th homicide of the year — the city council voted to fund a new police academy and to study adding another one next year. Also Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council signed off a new law that limits protesters’ ability to gather outside private residences and forbids people from carrying certain items, such as knives and pepper spray, in city buildings.

  • Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez: Many protests are “completely out of control. … This is about protecting our family members, our children and our neighbors from aggressive, targeted protests at all hours of the day and the night.”

3. Activism grows among disabled UC students

Quinn O’Connor, an advocate for disabled students, stands on Janss Steps on the UCLA campus on Aug. 18, 2021. Photo by Benjamin Hanson for CalMatters College Journalism Network

When the pandemic hit, many disabled students at the University of California found it ironic to watch how quickly the UC system transitioned to online courses, given how hard it had been for students with disabilities to gain access to remote classes in the past. With the pandemic sparking conversations about how to best accommodate students’ different needs — and last year marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act — advocacy is ramping up for the rights of disabled students at UC, Janelle Marie Salanga reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.

  • UC Berkeley student Liza Mamedov-Turchinsky: “The disability justice principle that we all stand by is: ‘Nothing about us without us.’ How can the university be making decisions that impact us very directly in terms of life and death decisions about our health without us even in the room?”

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CalMatters commentary

Time to remake the recall: A bill I authored — and which is currently on Newsom’s desk — would help ensure voters aren’t continually subjected to deception and duplicity, argues state Sen. Josh Newman, a Fullerton Democrat.

Improving outcomes for Black births: California’s pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black people is now worse than the national average, and higher than it was 30 years ago, write Nourbese Flint of Black Women for Wellness Action Project and Jen Flory of the Western Center on Law & Poverty.


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Other things worth your time

Why Caitlyn Jenner’s California recall run failed. // Los Angeles Times

How they failed: California Republicans, media critics and Facebook. // New York Times

McAuliffe is going with the Newsom playbook in Virginia. // Intelligencer

Becerra takes a back seat while others steer COVID response. // Politico

California launching program to track violent deaths in LGBTQ community. // San Francisco Chronicle

California state offices treat legionella as employees return to work. // Sacramento Bee

San Diego increases sewer rates 31 percent over four years for single-family customers. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Toxin levels spike, prompting drinking water emergency in Northern California. // Circle of Blue

Is BART prepared for the catastrophic weather events climate change will bring? // SFGATE

California’s wildfires had an invisible impact: high carbon dioxide emissions. // New York Times

After epic battles, city poised to make JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park car-free for good. // San Francisco Chronicle

Fraud-linked San Jose and Fremont residences face construction woes. // Mercury News

Billionaire Bill Gross testifies legal feud has him feeling ‘like in a prison’ in his oceanfront Laguna Beach home. // Orange County Register


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...