California Labor Unions Score Major Wins in State Legislature

Labor unions in California had a series of significant victories in the state Legislature, including landmark deals to raise fast food wages to $20 per hour and requiring driverless trucks to have a human safety driver. They also secured the passage of a bill granting all workers in California a minimum of five paid sick days, an increase from the current requirement of three.

One bill that drew attention and debate was the proposal to grant unemployment benefits to striking workers. Some Republican state senators expressed concerns that allowing striking workers to receive unemployment benefits would harm businesses. However, the bill ultimately passed, reflecting the growing influence of labor unions in Sacramento.

Added to the list of victories for organized labor in California was the passage of a bill gradually raising the minimum wage to $25 an hour for healthcare workers, including janitors, security guards, launderers, and hospital gift shop workers. Another bill made California the first state to include housekeepers, nannies, and other household staff in laws requiring health and safety protections.

Labor unions also achieved success in advocating for the right of staffers who work for the Legislature to organize unions, a proposal that had previously failed. Additionally, a new bill introduced this year aims to provide protections for actors and artists in the entertainment industry by allowing them to nullify provisions in contracts that permit the use of artificial intelligence to digitally clone their voices, faces, and bodies.

These accomplishments can be attributed, in part, to various factors such as the presence of progressive lawmakers, particularly in the Assembly, who supported labor’s priorities. Ongoing strikes in Southern California also garnered public support for workers and influenced politicians to stand with them.

The approval and support for labor unions extend beyond California. A nationwide Gallup poll indicates that two-thirds of Americans approve of unions, and in three recent labor disputes involving actors, writers, and auto workers, overwhelming majorities sided with the unions.

While labor unions celebrate their victories, critics argue that the policies passed by the Legislature will have negative consequences for businesses, workers, and California’s competitiveness. The California Chamber of Commerce warns that higher costs, increased litigation, and additional bureaucracy may hinder job growth and lead to reduced tax revenue.

As California continues to address the tug of war between labor and business, labor unions have experienced unprecedented success in advocating for workers’ rights and protections. The shift in legislative priorities reflects the growing recognition of the vital role unions play in providing balance and fairness in the economy.

– Laurel Rosenhall, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2023