For more than 20 years, California lawmakers wouldn’t let their staffers unionize. That’s about to change


SAMEEA KAMAL | Calmatters

The effort to allow California’s legislative staff to unionize — at least 23 years in the works — is nearly across the finish line.

But to win enough support from their bosses, significant changes are still being made: New lawmakers would be able to dismiss their predecessor’s staffers. In July, the bill was amended to push back when the union could organize from 2024 to 2026.

The watered-down version passed the Senate today on a 30-3 vote, and awaits a final vote in the Assembly before it goes to the governor.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, a Democrat from Inglewood, pumped her fists outside the Senate chamber, and said this bill was the reason that she ran for office last year.

“I have tears. This is like my baby,” McKinnor said.

“It’s just time that we support our staff, that we see them, that we make sure that they don’t have a hostile environment to work under,” she told reporters after the bill’s passage. “Because this is some tough work. And we need the brightest and the best to do the people’s work.”

During the debate, Sen. Brian Dahle, a Redding Republican, said he was conflicted about the bill, but noted that during the long days leading up to adjournment on Thursday, staffers don’t get paid overtime.

This is at least the fifth time a bill to allow staff to unionize has been introduced. The first such attempt was in 2000. Critics have pointed to the absence of collective bargaining for their own employees as one way legislators don’t follow the laws they pass for everyone else.

Past efforts have failed because of concerns that a union could get in the way of elected officials representing their constituents, as well as undermining the autonomy of how lawmakers run their offices.

What changed this year?

In addition to dozens of amendments over the past few years, McKinnor, a former legislative staff member herself, is the new leader of the Public Employment and Retirement Committee where the bill has repeatedly failed. The Assembly’s leaders made it Assembly Bill 1, and it has more than 40 co-authors from both chambers — including both the former and current Assembly speakers.

McKinnor is among 21 Assemblymembers and five senators who previously worked as Legislative staff members.

The Legislature this year has made several efforts to boost workers in other industries, including proposed deals this week to increase pay for workers in the fast food and health care industries.

Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher — a former Assemblymember who carried legislative unionization bills in 2018, 2019 and 2021, and who is now head of the California Labor Federation — said this bill is one of the most important for the group this year.

If the bill is signed into law, about 1,800 full-time staffers employed by the Legislature would join statehouse workers from Oregon, the first state to allow unionizing. And congressional staffers won the right to unionize last year — which helped convince some lawmakers.

The bill allows collective bargaining, but it would be up to staff to organize and win approval for a union.

And while some concerns remain about the “constitutionality and functionality of the bill,” according to the Senate floor analysis — such as a lack of language addressing strikes, mediation, or arbitration — Gonzalez Fletcher said those details need to be addressed through contract negotiations, and would be inappropriate to include in legislation.

The analysis also notes: “While other issues remain, it is also true that very few legislative projects pass in perfect form. The need for ongoing clarification and improvement would not be unique to this bill.”

McKinnor said she isn’t worried about the bill winning final approval in the Assembly, and is similarly optimistic about the governor signing the bill, though she acknowledged there was still work to be done.

“I don’t want to jinx myself, again, I don’t want to get too excited, because I have one more step to go.” she said. “I have faith that he will sign the deal. But I look forward to meeting him and his staff to talk about it.”

Find your latest news here at the Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:

Subscribe to The Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle


More like this

Soboba Tribal Environmental Department hosts Talking Circle

In an effort to assess climate adaptation on the Soboba Indian Reservation, Soboba Tribal Environmental Department Director Christian Aceves and his team hosted a Talking Circle on Sept. 14. In partnership with SoCalGas, a presentation about the past, present and future challenges was provided to Tribal and community members and Soboba employees.

Pride Under the Pines Pride Festival in Idyllwild, CA is just two weeks away

The third edition of PS HomeBoys, Pride Under the Pines Pride Festival, is set to go live in two weeks on Saturday, October 7, 2023, in Idyllwild, CA, with non-stop electronic dance music and dancing from 12- 9 pm. The full day of fabulous entertainment will feature two musical headliners, hilarious comedians, and superstar drag divas who are all planning on rocking the outdoor stage.

California needs new rules as it forces more mentally ill people into treatment

California law has tried for almost 50 years to protect people with mental illness from forced treatment, and for just as long, critics have said that the state is leaving mentally ill people without treatment, abandoning them to die on the streets.

The Call for a Four-day Work Week

Some years ago, I visited some old lefty friends, who both just happened to have MBAs. A periodic recession was happening then and we started talking about macro-economics. Being lefties, they advocated cutting the work week to four days in order to make room for more jobs and thus lowering the rate of unemployment. Being an evil curmudgeon, I asked them if they would gladly accept a 20% cut in their own incomes in order for this to happen.