In the final two weeks of the 2017 session, California legislators face all sorts of weighty issues, including a parks and water bond, housing legislation and whether California should become a sanctuary state.
Then there are the narrow special interest measures. In this session, seemingly more so than in the past, those interests revolve around organized labor. In a Capitol controlled by Democrats, many of whom owe their election to union support, the pressure is intense to side with their labor allies.
But they should ask themselves whether it’s the proper place for the Legislature to, say, determine that the United Food and Commercial Workers should dictate health policy.
That’s essentially what would happen if they approve Assembly Bill 1461 by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond. The bill is aimed at Blue Apron, which packages meal kits for people who like to cook but don’t have time to shop.
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The California Department of Public Health regulates the company as a food processor rather than a food handler. Thurmond’s bill would impose additional regulations without “directly addressing the larger question of which is the appropriate regulatory structure for these businesses,” the Senate staff analysis says.
The bill would not apply to out-of-state companies that ship meal kits into California. If additional regulation is warranted, public health experts, not labor, should seek it. AB 1461 would add regulation, without providing clear benefits to consumers.
Similarly, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, are carrying Senate Bill 349 and AB 251, which are backed by the Service Employees International Union and United Nurses Association of California to increase staffing levels at dialysis clinics and restrict dialysis providers’ profits.
Perhaps dialysis providers should face greater regulation; we don’t know. But that call ought to come from public health experts, not unions seeking an edge in their organizing efforts.
SEIU also is behind AB 1513 by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose. This bill would require that employees of private firms who care for elderly and infirm people in their homes divulge their cellphone numbers, mailing addresses and email addresses to unions that seek to organize them.
Kalra says the bill would help ensure workers are properly trained. But this measure clearly would help unions organize and invade workers’ privacy. The employees might be better off in unions, or not. But the Legislature should not use its power to tip the scales toward labor.
Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, is carrying AB 1066 to expand the prevailing wage law to include tree removal work done in public works projects. We fully support a decent wage for a day’s work. But tree removal seems awfully small bore for serious legislators.
Legislators should heed the League of California Cities’ argument that while tree removal could be considered demolition when it’s part of a larger project, this bill could subject routine maintenance to the complexity and cost of low-bid contracting.
On the flip side, Thurmond’s AB 1701, sponsored by unions representing carpenters and building trades, seeks to provide reasonable protections for workers by making general contractors liable if subcontractors stiff workers. No one should cheat laborers out of their pay. Competing sides ought to find common ground on this bill.
In this and recent sessions, the Legislature has distinguished itself by approving far-reaching bills related to gender pay equity, the earned income tax credit for the working poor and gig economy workers, and a path for low-wage workers to save for retirement. In each instance, lawmakers offered workers a hand up.
In too many instances this year, however, legislators seem intent on helping unions in fights with employers. That is a treacherous path.