Newsom faces two tough labor decisions
Headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk are two highly controversial labor-backed bills that could test the limits of the governor’s commitment to progressive policy as he seeks to elevate his national profile and appeal to voters in other states.
Among the pile of bills that state lawmakers greenlighted in marathon Monday floor sessions as they race to conclude the year’s legislative business ahead of a Wednesday deadline: a proposal to create a first-in-the-nation state council to regulate wages and working conditions in the fast food industry and another to make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections.
Newsom hasn’t taken an official position on the fast food council bill, which is ardently supported by many labor unions and just as strongly opposed by business, restaurant and franchise groups — even after it was significantly amended to address some of their concerns, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports.
And Newsom’s own administration seems to have articulated different stances on the state’s role in workplace regulation:
- On the one hand, the state Department of Finance announced its opposition to the fast food council bill in a June analysis, citing “significant ongoing costs” for the Department of Industrial Relations and “a fragmented regulatory and legal environment for employers” that could “raise long-term costs across industries” and “exacerbate existing delays” in enforcing wage theft violations and other labor laws.
- On the other hand, Newsom’s Future of Work Commission in 2021 released a report that found California needs to form a “new social compact for work and workers” by setting “moonshot goals,” including raising wages, helping workers form unions and increasing the number of quality jobs — defined as those with a living wage, stable and predictable pay, safe and dignified workplace conditions, and access to benefits, among other factors.
But for many progressive Democrats, the bill comes down to letting “fast food workers … literally sit at the table with their bosses and talk about the challenges of their job,” as California Labor Federation leader Lorena Gonzalez — who authored a prior version of the proposal as a state Assemblymember — said at a Monday rally celebrating the bill’s passage.
For worker advocates, that logic also underlies a bill that would make it easier for farmworkers to unionize. As Jeanne explains, the proposal would give farmworkers the option to vote by mail in union elections, instead of the current system where in-person elections are required and typically take place on the grower’s property.
Proponents say the bill is necessary since farmworker union representation in California has dwindled down to statistically zero and because a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year effectively kicked labor organizers off farms.
But a spokesperson for Newsom, who vetoed a similar version of the mail-ballot bill last year, said as recently as Sunday the governor remains opposed despite the adoption of some amendments that he supports. The governor “cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election,” said spokesperson Erin Mellon. The Senate GOP caucus urged Newsom to veto the bill, saying it was “fraught with opportunities for trickery.”
- Assemblymember Mark Stone, the Santa Cruz Democrat who authored the bill, said Monday: “I’m hoping the governor, even though we have some disagreement on a few parts of this, will see his way to signing it.”
Farmworkers and their supporters, who just wrapped up a 355-mile march to Sacramento to urge Newsom to sign the bill, are taking things up a notch: According to the United Farm Workers Foundation, they plan to hold daily 24-hour vigils in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno until Newsom decides the bill’s fate.
The governor — who signed a stack of proposals Monday and vetoed a few others — may have an easier decision to make when it comes to a bill expected to win final legislative approval today that would legally protect out-of-state families traveling to California to obtain what supporters call gender-affirming care for transgender youth, CalMatters’ Ariel Gans reports. The proposal is contentious — opponents allege that, among other things, it could eliminate custody rights for an out-of-state parent who disagrees with the other parent on the health care their child should receive.
But, as Ariel notes, it echoes Newsom’s continued contrasting of California with red states such as Florida and Texas, and it mirrors the intent of a bill he signed earlier this year to legally shield out-of-state women who travel to California for abortions.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,237,892 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 94,047 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 It’s all in the amendments
Not long before Sunday’s midnight deadline for state lawmakers to publish amendments to bills on which they plan to vote before the end of the legislative session Wednesday, up popped a proposal to extend the lifespan of California’s last nuclear power plant and give its operator, PG&E, a forgivable loan of as much as $1.4 billion to do so. The bill is nearly identical to Newsom’s original proposal aimed at bolstering the state’s energy supplies, but would only authorize delaying Diablo Canyon’s planned 2025 closure until 2030 at the latest, instead of 2035 as Newsom had suggested. “During the time the Diablo Canyon powerplant’s operations are extended, the state will continue to act with urgency to bring clean replacement energy online to support reliability and achieve California’s landmark climate goals,” the bill reads, in what appears to be an attempt to soothe environmentalists and anti-nuclear advocates opposed to prolonging the facility’s lifespan.
- Newsom’s other last-minute climate proposals not already inserted into legislation were published in bill amendments Sunday night.
Here’s a look at other noteworthy amendments, including those tucked into more than a dozen “budget trailer bills.” These measures — which are drafted behind closed doors — provide detailed instructions on how to spend money previously earmarked in the budget, but can also include major unrelated policy changes. Some noteworthy provisions include:
- A $41.5 million allocation to help state and local governments respond to California’s monkeypox state of emergency, including for vaccine distribution, testing, outreach and education and treatment.
- $1,000 retention bonuses for an estimated 70,000 health care workers at California’s community clinics, which serve some of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.
- An initial commitment of $57 million and ongoing state funding to help counties implement Newsom’s controversial CARE Court proposal, which would make it easier to compel people with serious mental health issues into treatment and housing. Many county officials had raised concerns about a lack of funding to implement the program, but the amendments “help address the most immediate fiscal and policy concerns,” Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, said in a statement. Some key policy amendments include staggered implementation — with only seven counties required to launch the program by Oct. 1, 2023 and the remaining 51 by Dec. 1, 2024 — and shielding local employees from being held civilly or criminally liable by CARE Court participants in most cases.
2 Abortion package gets amended
From CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang: Democratic legislators and Newsom may have spent much of the past eight months describing California as a “reproductive rights safe haven,” but they waited until the final 72 hours of the legislative session to take action on many of the bills behind that headline. As the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade continue to ripple across the country, lawmakers moved to address some of the shifts in last-minute amendments:
- The centerpiece of Democratic lawmakers’ package of abortion bills, which would create “The Abortion Practical Support Fund” to provide financial assistance for needy patients, made it through the Assembly with amendments increasing oversight of how the money is doled out. The amendments also propose opening the $20 million allocated for the fund to out-of-state residents.
- Although California has moved to prevent law enforcement and medical personnel from handing over patient information to states that have outlawed or restricted abortion, a Nebraska case involving Facebook messages has ignited a flurry of digital privacy concerns. Last week, lawmakers introduced amendments to block California-based social media and tech companies from handing over abortion-related data or records.
- And, although the security of abortion records has dominated the conversation, lawmakers also slipped in privacy protections for transgender children who receive gender-affirming health care.
3 Inside California’s intensifying water wars
California’s water wars are escalating in rural Siskiyou County, where ranchers desperate to irrigate dry pastures and keep thirsty cows alive decided to defy a state order to stop irrigating when the drought-plagued Shasta River dips below a certain level, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. As a result, the river’s flows dropped by more than half in a single day in mid-August, threatening salmon about to spawn there and outraging Native American tribes and state water officials. But those same authorities are often limited to enforcing state water laws “blindfolded and with one hand tied behind their back,” resulting in delayed or limited consequences for offenders, Felicia Marcus, former chairperson of the California water board, told Rachel.
- Jim Scala, a rancher and board member of the Shasta River Water Association: “Only regret I have is we didn’t start earlier.”
- Craig Tucker, a natural resources consultant for the Karuk Tribe, the second largest Native American tribe in California: “This is about the Shasta and it’s about Klamath salmon and it’s about tribes in the Klamath. But this is really about: Can the state protect its water supplies, or is it just going to be the Wild West? Is it going to be every cowboy for himself?”
Meanwhile, get ready for another week of somewhat apocalyptic climate news in California: Starting today, triple-digit temperatures are set to blanket most of the state in a late-summer heat wave that could last through Labor Day weekend and increase the risk of wildfires; California’s electric grid operator is directing agencies to delay scheduled maintenance to generators and transmission lines through Sept. 6 to ensure there’s enough energy to meet the demand when residents switch on their air conditioners; and the state’s prolonged drought may have contributed to the Bay Area’s largest algal bloom in more than a decade, which has already killed thousands of fish.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 poses numerous unresolved issues.
Newsom’s water strategy needs to go a step further: The state should adopt an approach to water management that treats the environment as a priority, rather than as a constraint on operations, argue Sarah Null and Jeffrey Mount of the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy Center.
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