Will California strikers get jobless benefits?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La September 25, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Will California strikers get jobless benefits?

The bill on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk whose fate is generating perhaps the greatest suspense: a measure that would allow striking workers in California to collect unemployment benefits after two weeks.

It’s definitely a bill with clear battle lines drawn between labor and business.

But what would its impact really be?

Felicia Mello of CalMatters’ California Divide team takes a deep look at Senate Bill 799 — a particularly pertinent piece of proposed policy given that unions representing more than 180,000 workers have staged California strikes that lasted at least two weeks this year alone (though the 11,500-member writers’ guild reached a tentative deal Sunday with the major Hollywood studios).

Business groups and employers who fund unemployment benefits through payroll taxes say the bill would force them to pay for strikes. They also argue that the state’s unemployment insurance system has one of the least restrictive eligibility requirements in the nation, and that the system itself — which currently owes the federal government $18 billion — is already overburdened.

  • Robert Moutrie, policy advocate for the chamber: A strike is “a game where you plan and prepare and tell the employer we can hold out longer than you. We view that strategic technique as profoundly different than being unemployed.”

But labor leaders say the bill will help level the playing field, which favors employers who can simply wait out a strike. Some economists also contend that companies may be more likely to offer more generous wages and benefits upfront if they know that workers may be more willing to go on strike.

  • Kurt Petersen, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents striking hotel workers: “Knowing that there would be unemployment as a supplement would give workers more confidence that they can strike…. Will it make it a little more of a fair fight? Yes. Do employers have enormous advantages in negotiations with workers? Yes…. The CEO never has to worry about paying the rent.”

As for Newsom, the governor recently told Politico he was “cautious” about expanding unemployment benefits given the fund’s debt, and an office spokesperson declined to say Friday whether he would sign the bill. Read more on the debate in Felicia’s story.

While the fate of that bill is uncertain, Newsom announced a number of signings and vetoes Friday and Saturday nights. Two of his vetoes upset allies in the LGBTQ and labor communities:

Veto: AB 957, by Assemblymember Lori Wilson, called for judges to consider a parent’s affirmation of their child’s gender identity in custody cases. In his veto message, Newsom said he appreciates “the passion and values that led the author to introduce this bill” and he shares “a deep commitment to advancing the rights of transgender Californians.”

But, he said, the executive and legislative branches should be careful about dictating legal standards for the judicial branch. “Other-minded elected officials, in California and other states, could very well use this strategy to diminish the civil rights of vulnerable communities,” he added. 

Equality California said it was “disappointed and disheartened.” The Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus called the veto a “missed opportunity to remind the nation that California is a safe haven for transgender and nonbinary children.”

  • Wilson, whose teenage son is transgender, in a statement: “I’ve been disheartened over the last few years as I watched the rising hate and heard the vitriol to the trans community. My intent with this bill was to give them a voice, particularly in the family court system.”

Signings: After all that criticism, Newsom announced Saturday night he signed six priority bills for the LGBTQ caucus (five sponsored by Equality California), including two bills to support LGBTQ students: AB 5, by Assemblymember Rick Zbur, to require teachers to have annual training, and SB 760, by Sen. Josh Newman, to require schools to have at least one gender-neutral bathroom by 2026. 

Veto: AB 316, by Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Laura Friedman, would have regulated self-driving trucks and required a “human safety operator.” Newsom said the bill banned testing of driverless trucks, but Aguiar-Curry said that was a “disheartening mischaracterization.”

Teamsters and labor leaders rallied at the Capitol last week, but in his veto message, Newsom called the bill “unnecessary” because the Department of Motor Vehicles can approve regulations. The governor did, however, acknowledge the potential impact on workers. He noted that he created a Future of Work task force in 2019 and said he is directing the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to develop recommendations next year. 

The California Labor Federation wasn’t satisfied, issuing a blistering statement that driverless trucks are dangerous and that 250,000 drivers could lose their jobs.

  • Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, federation leader, in a statement: “We will continue to fight to make sure that robots do not replace human drivers and that technology is not used to destroy good jobs.”

Signing: Newsom signed SB 544, which continues until 2026 some flexibility for remote meetings for state boards and commissions started during the COVID-19 pandemic. The First Amendment Coalition and California News Publishers Association opposed the bill, but Disability Rights California and the California Aging Commission issued statements supporting the measure. 

  • Sen. John Laird, the bill’s author, in a statement: “Senate Bill 544 is a significant step forward in modernizing the Bagley-Keene Act to embrace the power of technology by fostering equity and enhancing public engagement, while also preserving public access to the decision-making process.”

In total, the Legislature put about 900 bills on Newsom’s desk, with an Oct. 14 deadline. CalMatters is keeping track: Watch this space for updates.


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1 Newsom: ‘Change has its enemies’

Flanked by state and local politicians, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state's plan to address homelessness across the state at Cal Expo in Sacramento, on March 16, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the state’s plan to address homelessness at Cal Expo in Sacramento, on March 16, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Speaking of the governor, his tour of the national media isn’t quite over. 

In an interview Sunday night on the venerable “60 Minutes” on CBS, Newsom talked about his efforts to tackle homelessness, a crisis that seems to be getting worse, despite the $20 billion the state has spent on his watch

Asked whether he’s outraged and disgusted, he replied: “I am because I see what everybody else sees. I try to walk my kids to the park and have a difficult time navigating the sidewalk.”  

The segment focused on his CARE Courts, designed to move people on the streets with mental health problems into treatment and housing. Newsom promoted and defended the courts, arguing that they will save lives and billions in taxpayer money in the long run. He pushed back against civil liberties critics who he said are using tired talking points and against county officials who, as CalMatters has reported, have expressed deep concerns that they won’t have the resources to make the program succeed. 

But the governor isn’t having it.

  • Newsom: “Spare me. Honestly, I’m a little indignant by this rhetoric. The only thing limiting people is an unwillingness to be accountable. And I’m just done with that. I’m done with the excuses. You should be done as a taxpayer. Everyone watching should be sick and tired of the excuses. There’s plenty of money in this space.”

So yes, the governor is all in on his mental health initiative. Remember, he elbowed aside a proposed multi-billion-dollar borrowing measures for public schools, colleges and housing from the March ballot to make sure voters focus on his Proposition 1, which includes $4.7 billion in bonds and changes how money is spent from the 20-year-old Mental Health Services Act.

Still, as the courts start rolling out in seven counties next month, followed by Los Angeles County in December and the rest of the state next year, some local officials are lowering expectations about its impact on homelessness.

Wait there’s more: Friday, the governor also filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging justices to review a contentious ruling that is preventing western cities from clearing homeless encampments. Newsom joins a growing number of California officials asking the high court to step in because public health and safety are at stake.  

  • Newsom, in a statement: “As California invests billions to address housing and homelessness, the courts have tied the hands of state and local governments that seek to use common sense approaches to clean our streets and provide help for unhoused Californians living in inhumane conditions.”

2 Gas price watchdog sends alert

Gas prices at a local gas station in San Diego on Sept. 18, 2023.
Gas prices exceed $6 a gallon at a station in San Diego on Sept. 18, 2023. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

The Newsom administration has seen at least one gain from the new gas price watchdog that came out of the special session the governor called last year.

On Friday, the Division of Petroleum Market Oversight sent a letter to Newsom and legislative leaders on the recent price spike at the pump, spotlighting what it called “an unusual transaction” Sept. 15 on the gasoline spot market and unplanned refinery maintenance, as well as rising global crude oil prices.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “With California’s new gas price transparency law, we now have the tools to see where this market is broken…. We will no longer be left in the dark as private traders and corporate interests make record profits while Californians foot the bill.”

Pump prices have reached $6 a gallon in Los Angeles and are rapidly rising elsewhere in California — a trend that Republicans are hammering Newsom and Democrats about and blaming instead on high taxes, fees and regulations. As of Friday, California’s average price of regular unleaded was $5.78 a gallon — 52 cents higher than a month ago and $1.92 higher than the U.S. average. 

Amid similar price spikes and outrage, last October Newsom called a special session to tax what he called exorbitant profits by oil companies. At the time,the gap between California prices and the national average ballooned to a record $2.50 a gallon. 

The session convened on the first day of the new session Dec. 5, but legislators balked at passing legislation to impose a penalty. So in March, Newsom agreed to create the new watchdog division inside the California Energy Commission instead.   

While the law allows the commission to set a maximum profit margin, a spokesperson said more analysis and study is needed before any formal proposal.

3 Newsom blasts judge for gun ruling

Rifles for sale at Firearms Unknown in Oceanside on April 12, 2021. Photo by Bing Guan, Reuters
Rifles for sale at Firearms Unknown in Oceanside on April 12, 2021. Photo by Bing Guan, Reuters

A federal judge who has been a thorn in the side of California Democrats’ gun control efforts struck again — and Gov. Newsom didn’t hide his disdain.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez for a second time struck down a state law that bans gun owners from having detachable magazines with more than 10 rounds. “There is no American tradition of limiting ammunition capacity,” he wrote in his ruling, adding that “there have been, and there will be, times where many more than 10 rounds are needed to stop attackers.”

But Attorney General Rob Bonta immediately filed notice he’ll appeal the ruling, arguing that guns with large-capacity magazines are used in mass shootings. Benitez issued a similar ruling in 2017, but was overturned by a federal appeals court.

Newsom quickly issued a statement blasting the San Diego-based judge, noting that Benitez ruled on the same day that President Biden announced a new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention (led by Vice President Kamala Harris, a Californian) and that on National Gun Violence Awareness Day in 2021, the judge threw out the state’s three-decade ban on assault weapons. In that ruling, Benitez compared the AR-15 rifle to a “Swiss Army Knife,” describing both as the “perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

The governor also used the occasion to put in a plug for his call for a constitutional convention to add a gun control amendment

  • Newsom, in a statement: “It’s time to wake up. Unless we enshrine a Right to Safety in the Constitution, we are at the mercy of ideologues like Judge Benitez. All of our gun safety laws that are proven to save lives are at risk. It doesn’t matter what laws we pass. It doesn’t matter what the voters decide.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As California’s homelessness crisis deepens, politicians are pointing fingers at each other over who is responsible.

Two views on the bill to allow striking workers collect unemployment benefits:

Striking workers are at a disadvantage and benefits would level the playing field, writes Vincent Brown, an award-winning writer and a member of the Writers Guild of America.

California’s unemployment agency has enough problems without taking on new benefits, writes Scott Syphax, president of Syphax Strategic Solutions and board member of the 21st Century Alliance.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Biden campaign sending Newsom to Republican presidential debate // Axios

There’s another reason why Trump is skipping debate at the Reagan Library // Politico

Two NorCal members of Congress are feuding after viral clip of climate debate // San Francisco Chronicle

After climate summit, Newsom faces key decisions to reduce emissions // AP News

Dry cleaning chemical pollutes cities across California // San Luis Obispo Tribune

California workers who cut countertops are dying of silicosis // Los Angeles Times

Carbon offsets undercut California’s climate progress, researchers find // Bloomberg

Is $40 million opioid awareness campaign making an impact? // Mercury News

New analysis shows how much PG&E bills could rise next year // San Francisco Chronicle

Law taking guns from people under restraining orders survives court challenge // Los Angeles Times

Bay Area officials say antisemitic ‘Zoombombing’ derails democracy // San Francisco Chronicle

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