Bills of 2023 | Newsom signs bill to let legislative staff unionize

Capitol staffers at work on the Assembly floor on April 24, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Capitol staffers at work on the Assembly floor on April 24, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Editor’s note: As 2023 draws to a close, The Signal is presenting CalMatters’ wrap-up stories on some of the key bills that reached the governor’s desk at the close of the 2023 legislative session. Here’s the CalMatters summary of a bill that will allow legislative staff to unionize. 

By Sameea Kamal  

CalMatters Writer  

Assembly Bill 1 allows legislative staff to form a union, but not until 2026. Currently, state employees other than the staff of Assembly members and state senators can do so, but at least five efforts to extend that right have failed.   

The version that passed includes dozens of amendments to address concerns that have come up over the years, such as preserving lawmakers’ discretion over hiring and firing. It doesn’t address what happens if a future union decides to go on strike during the legislative session. The actual union will be organized by staff.   

Who Supports It 

Unsurprisingly, lots of other unions, including the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association. Other backers include advocacy groups such as California Environmental Voters, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and political action committee Fund Her.  

Besides bill author Assemblymember Tina McKinnor of Inglewood, there are more than 40 co-authors on the bill, in both the Senate and Assembly, including the current and immediate past speakers.   

Who Is Opposed 

Not all lawmakers are on board. Some, including Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda and Republican Sen. Brian Dahle of Redding, are concerned that a union could restrict the Legislature’s ability to carry out what constituents want.   

Why It Matters 

The 1,800 full-time legislative staffers sometimes work long hours, but don’t receive overtime pay. Until recently, there have been few options for reporting workplace issues, such as sexual misconduct. And the Legislature has struggled to retain longtime employees or attract new talent.   

Part of why the bill has taken so long is that the Legislature’s operations are unique from other state employees. Specifics of what might change under a unionized staff would be worked out in contract negotiations.   

The Governor’s Call 

Newsom announced Oct. 7 he signed the bill.  

He didn’t comment, but Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation, said in a statement: “We are thrilled for the hardworking staff of the state Legislature who finally have the same rights to join a union as every other worker in California. The work of the Legislature touches the lives of all Californians and none of it would be possible without the contributions and service of district and Capitol staff.” 

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