Worker Power in the Capitol Produces Important Legislative Wins

The annual season of governor’s signatures and vetoes has come to an end. And this year, as every year, worker power won legislative change. Many of the most significant bills that were signed by Governor Brown each engaged an active lobbying and advocacy effort by workers and their organizations.

The first step in a legislative campaign is to identify the problem you are trying to solve to root policymakers in the reality of what is happening in worksites across our state and throughout our economy. 

Legislative advocates present facts to politicians. Our members present the truth.  The truth of what is happening on the ground to good jobs. The truth about employers’ abuse and intimidation against workers. The truth about the struggle to balance work and family obligations. The truth about illegal but unenforced anti-union activities. 

Throughout the year, workers and union members gathered, worked, petitioned, called, rallied, lobbied, testified, protested at the Capitol for pro-worker legislation.  They engaged their coworkers in their fight for better jobs and a brighter future.  They took days off work and risked their jobs to tell their stories and to push for greater worker protections.

Members of entertainment unions have watched their jobs in the television and film industries leave California for other states and other countries. The loss of these good jobs has devastated families, eliminated good union work, and dragged our economy. Union members spent all year mobilizing to describe the problem to legislators and fight for a solution in AB 1839, legislation to invest in California’s film and television industry. 

Their activities culminated in a Mobilization Day in Sacramento where hundreds of union workers demonstrated their crafts through a make-up transformation, erection of a blue screen from the set of the TV hit Scandal and presentation of the crew, cast and talent of hit shows.  Every dollar of a film tax incentive investment goes to support a union job – with the Teamsters, IATSE, SAG-AFTRA, IBEW, LIUNA, AFM, DGA. Their collective efforts produced success – the Governor signed AB 1839 (Gatto/Bocangera), creating a $330 million film tax incentive for five years, on September 18. 

Workers at Taylor Farms work for at least three different employers. Out of 900 employees in Tracy, CA, about a third work directly for Taylor Farms, a third for a temporary agency, and a third for a farm labor contractor. One worksite, three employers, all doing the same work. Yet, Taylor Farms claims it is only liable for the wages, hours, and working conditions of their direct employees. If a temporary worker gets injured, Taylor Farms denies responsibility. Not only does Taylor Farms contract out their jobs, they also try to contract out their liability. This set up creates too many incentives to use labor contractors and to not care at all about those workers on your premises.

All this will change because Governor Brown signed AB 1897 into law on September 28. This landmark bill will hold employers responsible for the wages, health and safety, and workers compensation for contracted employees doing their work while on their premises. This bill was enacted because of the courage, the power, the voice of workers at Taylor Farms. Over and over again, Taylor Farms workers and the Teamsters would descend on the Capitol, speak their truth, testify in committee, mad dog corporate lobbyists, claim valuable real estate at “The Gate” where lobbyists can meet with legislators off the floor. Taylor Farms workers and Teamsters would line up in the hallway and flush out the corporate lobbyists. And it all worked!   

Members of the Our Walmart campaign worked the stores, talking to associates about what it would take to make their jobs at Walmart better jobs. Resoundingly, the lack of paid sick days, being forced to work when they or their family member is sick…or else face discipline and the threat of losing their jobs is what they heard as a top priority for Walmart associates. Our Walmart members from throughout the state gathered at the state Capitol in the final weeks of the legislative session to fight for paid sick days. They spent time on the doors lobbying for three paid sick days and gathered at the Senators entrance to the Senate floor to engage in valuable face time with legislators. Their efforts produced success – the Governor signed AB 1522 (Gonzalez), creating three paid sick days for nearly all California workers, on September 10. 

In the end, when truth spoke to power, truth won the day. It’s what makes legislative work so powerful and so fun. Truth can come out on top. It’s up to us, as legislative representatives to bring truth to bear. We’ve been asked by our leaders and our Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski to act less like lobbyists and be more like organizers. Our members are our most valuable asset, our greatest source of power.  We want to do all we can to help organize more worker power in the Capitol to win real and meaningful legislative change that improves the day to day lives of working people.