By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – California legislative staff will not have the option to unionize after a bill allowing them to organize was killed by lawmakers Wednesday evening.
Lawmakers in the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement ultimately rejected Assembly Bill 1577 on Wednesday, a measure that would have provided collective bargaining rights to legislative staff starting in July 2024. The measure was a step away from a hearing on the Assembly floor, where lawmakers would have decided whether or not to send the bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The committee’s chair, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, announced at the beginning of the committee hearing that he was pulling the bill off the agenda, saying he could not support it. The decision was met with “boos” from legislative staff who were in the room, many of whom promptly got up and left.
Shortly after announcing his decision, Assemblymember Cooper changed course and decided to allow the bill to have a hearing in the committee. That didn’t change the outcome, however, as the bill never made it to the Assembly floor.
“The fact that there’s a 40-page analysis should speak to how far this bill has to go to be workable,” Assemblymember Cooper said when he first pulled the bill. “There are procedural, legal and administrative problems that are far from being answered.”
Despite the Legislature’s track record of supporting labor unions, this is the fourth time in five years that a bill to allow legislative staff to unionize has failed to pass, according to the Los Angeles Times. Former Assemblywoman and current Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation, Lorena Gonzalez, began the push in 2018.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Mark Stone, issued a statement saying losing a bill during the final days of session when staff work “around the clock” is a “slap in their faces.”
“The message is clear. This committee trusts staff with shaping the laws that govern California, but not to bargain for basic working conditions,” Assemblymember Stone said. “While I won’t be returning next year, this issue isn’t going away. The fight will continue and I am thankful to my colleagues who will carry the conversation forward.”
Assemblymember Stone initially introduced the bill in May by gutting and amending an existing Senate bill. During the committee meeting, Assemblymember Cooper raised concern that the bill was not vetted properly. Assemblymember Stone, however, said in a statement that he attempted to reach out to Assemblymember Cooper several times since May, but the committee chair “refused to engage in discussions around his issues.”
Several lawmakers took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to express their disappointment with the bill being killed, vowing to support a future version of the bill in coming legislative sessions.
“Our staff aren’t looking for special treatment. They’re looking for the same dignity and respect afforded to all represented workers,” Assemblymember Tina McKinnor tweeted. “This isn’t over. I’ll be back in December and will reintroduce this bill.”