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California Lawmakers Vote to Let Legislative Employees Join a Labor Union

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California legislative workers may form a union if bill gets Gov. Gavin Newsom's sign-off. (Shutterstock)
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SACRAMENTO — Legislative workers at the California Capitol are close to forming their first labor union after state lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that allows them to organize.

The Democrats in charge of California’s Legislature have historically been friendly with labor unions. This year alone, lawmakers are poised to increase the minimum wage for fast food workers and health care employees while also making striking workers eligible for unemployment benefits.

But despite California lawmakers’ pro-union stance, the people who work for them have never been allowed to form a union. An attempt to do so last year failed to get a vote in the state Assembly.

That changed this year. On Wednesday, the state Legislature passed a bill to give legislative workers the option of joining a union. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who must decide whether to sign it into law.

“Legislative staff aren’t looking for special treatment — they are looking for the same dignity and respect afforded to all represented workers,” said Democratic Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, the author of the bill. “To the staff in our district offices and Capitol offices — including our dedicated committee staff — that honorably serve the people fo the state of California every day — know this — we see you and we respect you.”

The bill is one of hundreds of pieces of legislation lawmakers have sent to Newsom in the final two weeks of the legislative session. Newsom has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign them into law, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature.

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the year on Thursday.

Enhanced Sentences for Fentanyl Dealers

Lawmakers voted on Wednesday to send Newsom a legislation that would increase penalties for fentanyl dealers.

Fentanyl overdoses are killing roughly 110 Californians each week, officials said, and lawmakers this year have been divided on how best to stem the crisis.

Some Democratic lawmakers support policies that prioritize education, prevention and treatment. But Republicans and more moderate Democrats want more enforcement against dealers.

The legislation, authored by Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua, is the only bill cracking down on fentanyl dealers that made it through the legislative process this year. It would increase penalties for dealers for possessing more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fentanyl.

Progressive lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate blocked a slew of other public safety bills aiming to impose harsher sentences, including one that would require judges to warn dealers that they would face a harsher sentence if they dealt drugs that resulted in someone’s death.

Villapudua said the legislation will help California hold fentanyl dealers accountable. But Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher said it doesn’t go far enough.

“What we’re talking about here is half a million of lethal doses that someone would have to have in order to get this enhancement,” he said Wednesday before the vote. He adds: “We need a much stronger threshold when we’re talking about fentanyl dealers.”

Increased Penalties for Trafficking Children

The state Senate voted Wednesday to increase penalties for child traffickers.

The bill by Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove would make child trafficking a serious felony in California. Anyone convicted of at least three serious felonies faces a prison sentence of between 25 years to life under the state’s three strikes law.

Democrats in the state Assembly initially decided not to pas the bill. But they changed their minds amid a public outcry and an intervention from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

LGBTQ Foster Youth

The state Assembly voted to approve a bill that would require families to show that they can and are willing to meet the needs of a child in foster care regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Democratic Assemblymember Chris Ward said the legislation is necessary to protect LGBTQ foster youth who face an increased risk of experiencing homelessness.

“This bill is about making good connections,” Ward said. “These youth deserve loving and caring homes.”

The legislation would still have to get final approval in the state Senate before reaching Newsom’s desk. It’s among several bills the Legislature introduced this year aimed at offering more protections for LGBTQ children. Other proposals would require courts to weigh a parent’s support of their child’s gender identity during custody and visitation proceedings and keep records related to a gender-change petition for minors out of the public record.

Meanwhile, the state’s attorney general is going after local school district policies that would require school staff to tell parents if their child changes their pronouns or gender identity at school.

Involuntary Servitude

The state Assembly approved a proposal to change the state constitution to remove exemptions to involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. A similar attempt failed in the state Senate last year. The Newsom administration projected that it could cost the state billions of dollars to pay inmates a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

The proposal would have to get a two-thirds vote in the state Senate, which doesn’t plan to vote on it until next year. If it passes, then it would go to voters. Severalother states have already approved similar changes to their constitutions.

Protections for Domestic Workers

The state Assembly approved a bill extending worker health and safety protections to nannies, house cleaners and other domestic workers hired by private homeowners.

Domestic workers who get injured or sick on the job aren’t afforded the same health and safety protections required by state law as other workers. The bill would make the state’s occupational health and safety division adopt guidance by 2025 on how employers can comply with the law.

The Legislature sent a similar proposal in 2020 to Newsom’s desk, but he rejected it, citing the burden on private homeowners to comply. He signed a law in 2021 creating a task force to give recommendations on how the state can protect these workers. This year’s bill emerged as a result of those suggestions.

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