Capitol Alert AM Newsletter

Will California lawmakers allow their staff to unionize?

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, has introduced a bill that would allow legislative staff to unionize.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, has introduced a bill that would allow legislative staff to unionize. The Associated Press

When the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown in 1977 gave California public employees the right to unionize, they exempted, among others, their own staff members.

Legislative staffers remain at-will employees, who can be fired at any time – an issue that reemerged last fall during the rise of the Me Too movement against workplace sexual harassment. Women at the Capitol shared that they had not previously come forward about their experiences out of fear of retaliation and losing their livelihoods.

As lawmakers overhaul their policies for investigating and disciplining sexual misconduct complaints, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher says she wants to give staffers a greater voice in setting the rules that aim to protect them from harassment, discrimination and other abuses in the workplace.

"We're the ones telling them what will fix it for them," she said.

The San Diego Democrat, and former labor organizer, has introduced a measure this session to extend collective bargaining rights to employees of the Legislature. Assembly Bill 2048 is set for its first hearing in the public employment committee, 9 a.m. in Room 444 of the Capitol.

"When you have a situation where the power imbalance is so stark," because legislators are generally only removed by voters in their next election, Gonzalez Fletcher said, "it leads to an abuse of power by some people."

Forming a union would allow staffers to negotiate not just their pay and benefits, she said, but also job expectations and the conditions under which they work.

Gonzalez Fletcher recently held an informational meeting about the proposal with legislative staff, though a union is far off, even if the bill does pass. (It merely gives employees the option to organize.)

And that may be a longshot. Gonzalez Fletcher hesitates to discuss what her colleagues think of AB 2048, though she notes that unionizing efforts often take a long time.

"No boss ever thinks they're the bad boss," she said.

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FACEOFF: Democratic and Republican lawmakers bring their rivalry to the soccer field for the second annual Capitol Cup, a charity match to raise money for WEAVE, the local charity that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. The event takes place at 5 p.m. at Papa Murphy's Park, before the Republic FC game.

WHERE MY GIRLS AT?: Many scientific and technical fields are among the most segregated by gender in the workforce; fewer than a quarter of computer scientists and less than 15 percent of engineers are women. What factors account for this disparity and how can policymakers encourage broader participation in the study of science, technology, engineering and math? Maria Charles, professor of sociology and director of the Broom Center for Demography at UC Santa Barbara, discusses at noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

HEAD START: Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced earlier this month that 100,000 California 16- and 17-year-olds have pre-registered to vote under a 2016 law that automatically activates their registration when they turn 18. He aims to get even more during High School Education Voter Weeks, which kick off at 9 a.m. with a rally at North Hollywood High School.

AGREE TO DISAGREE: Software engineer Susan Fowler, whose blog post last year about sexual harassment at Uber eventually led to the ouster of the company's CEO, will join author Gonzalez Fletcher and other supporters of Assembly Bill 3080, prohibiting forced arbitration agreements, for a press conference at 11 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol. The bill will be heard later in the labor committee, and proponents are promising a "major announcement."