Gov. Jerry Brown is proving not to be a yes man even to unions that spent millions to elect him.
The governor drew heat Sunday by killing three key labor-backed bills, including one by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, on the final day for deciding the fate of measures passed by the Legislature this year.
Pérez's proposal would have doubled the statute of limitations, to nine years, for families of police or firefighters to file for death benefits stemming from an illness or injury deemed job-related.
The two other Democrat-crafted measures would have provided overtime, rest, meal and other job-related protections for domestic workers, and made it a crime for farmers not to provide their farmworkers with adequate shade and water.
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, angry at Brown's veto of the farmworkers bill, took a verbal slap Monday at the leader who championed his union's cause as governor three decades ago by signing a historic farm labor relations law.
"The UFW is appalled at the governor's decision to deny farm workers the basic legal tools to protect themselves from employers who intentionally put their lives at risk by refusing to provide them with adequate water and shade," he said in a written statement.
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said that Brown's vetoes of legislation by powerful allies shows that "even if he's your friend, he's never your friend 100 percent of the time."
"Overall, he's been strongly pro-union, but strongly doesn't mean uniformly," Pitney said. "(Sometimes) it's Jerry Brown showing that he's Jerry Brown and doesn't fit neatly into any category."
Larry Gerston, a government professor at San Jose State University, said that Brown's moderation in bill signings points to a much larger goal: passing Proposition 30, his multibillion-dollar tax hike, in November.
"You have to look at this in the broader picture it's just a bill here and a bill there," Gerston said. "Nothing is more important to Jerry Brown than Proposition 30. He doesn't want to give business any fodder, any reason, to support a 'No on 30' campaign."
Overall, Brown signed 876 regular session bills this year and vetoed 120, a veto rate of 12 percent, slightly lower than last year's 14 percent.
Gil Duran, Brown's spokesman, declined to comment on Brown's bill signings except to say that the governor does not play politics with state law.
"The governor reviews each bill carefully and uses his best judgment to determine whether to sign or veto," Duran said in an email. "His main question is whether the legislation is necessary and good for the state."
Lobbyist Terry Brennand of Service Employees International Union described Brown's actions on labor-backed bills as mixed, but added, "The big deals for us are on the ballot."
The California Labor Federation was quick Monday to point to a series of legislative victories this year achieved with Brown in the Governor's Office and Democrats controlling the Legislature.
One labor-pushed measure promises to hike benefits for injured employees by changing California's workers' compensation program in ways likely to reduce the number of lawsuits filed over treatment and compensation.
Other labor victories included bills to provide greater protections from homeowners facing foreclosure, keep construction of a new high-speed rail system on track, stop the outsourcing of state benefit call center jobs, bar charter cities from banning project labor agreements, and creating new civil penalties for unlicensed farm labor contractors, the labor federation said.
The California Chamber of Commerce also had reason to smile Monday.
Of 32 bills the chamber had designated as "job killers," only six reached Brown's desk. He signed four of those including the two mortgage industry reform measures and vetoed two.
"I think that not just the governor, but the Legislature, understood the importance of that 'job killer' tag with the economy the way it is," said Marc Burgat, the chamber's vice president of government relations.
"They tend to be listening to that message more now than in the past," he said. "At the end of the day, we need to grow the economy."
Pérez said he does not agree with Brown's veto of his death benefits bill, Assembly Bill 2451, but he knows the governor is concerned about potential cost implications and "that's a legitimate concern."
The Los Angeles Democrat said he has not had time to assess every bill signing and veto but generally gives Brown a thumbs-up.
"I think this governor has been fundamentally fair in the way that he's looked at the issues," Pérez said.