Workplace angst helping ‘job killer’ bills survive in California Legislature

This story appeared on Calmatters

Julia Elliott prepares slices of pizza for customers at Nabolom Bakery in Berkeley on Jan. 19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

In summary

The California Chamber of Commerce has targeted 17 bills on its annual “job killer” list. The eight survivors all relate to workplace issues.



In the 27 years of the California Chamber of Commerce’s “job killer” project, it has followed a fairly predictable pattern.

The chamber would annually designate several dozen legislative bills that business and employer groups considered to be particularly onerous – usually the highest priority measures of labor unions, environmental groups, consumer advocates and personal injury attorneys.

One-by-one, most of the targeted bills would fall by the wayside and only a few, if any, would reach the governor’s desk and be signed into law. Overall, the chamber and its allied business groups have achieved about a 90% kill ratio.

This pattern continued even after Gavin Newsom, arguably the most liberal governor in California history, took office in 2019. In the first four years of his governorship, the chamber tagged 94 bills as “job killers.” Just eight of them landed on Newsom’s desk and he signed six.

So far, 17 bills have made this year’s list – an unusually small number – and more than half have already faltered, mostly failing to clear committees.

One has reached Newsom and been signed, but it’s a faint shadow of its original thrust. Newsom wanted to either tax or penalize oil companies for what he characterized as price-gouging, but settled for giving the California Energy Commission the power to investigate gas prices, set allowable profit margins and levy fines on those which exceed them.

There are two tax increases on the chamber list, one imposing a wealth tax and another increasing corporate income taxes. Both, however, are nonstarters.

The unusual aspect of this year’s “job killer” battle is that the eight bills still viable, having cleared their first legislative houses, all relate to one topic – wages and workplace conditions – and are sponsored by unions or personal injury attorneys.

They are the political manifestation of what has become a very contentious labor relations atmosphere this year, not only in California but across the nation, due to high inflation and an overall shortage of workers.

In the main, the employment bills’ sponsors contend they are needed to bring more equity to workers while the chamber and other opponents say they will raise costs and thus reduce the financial ability of employers to expand payrolls.

The eight, in brief:

  • Assembly Bill 524, which would outlaw discrimination against a personal caregiver in employment, similar to the protection granted to persons on the basis of gender, age and other personal characteristics;
  • Assembly Bill 647, which would enhance the job protections of grocery industry workers who are displaced by mergers, sparked by the pending merger of the Kroger and Albertsons grocery chains;
  • Senate Bill 365, which would make arbitration of employment disputes, which employers generally favor, less viable by allowing lawsuits to continue while employers seek judicial approval of arbitration proceedings;
  • Senate Bill 399, which would prohibit employers from disciplining any worker who refuses to listen to employer presentations on political or religious issues;
  • Senate Bill 525, which would increase minimum wages in the health care industry to $21 an hour in 2024 and then $25 in 2025, with cost-of-living increases thereafter;
  • Senate Bill 616, which would increase the amount of paid sick leave employers must offer from a minimum of three days a year to seven days;
  • Senate Bill 627, which would require retail and service chains, such as restaurants, to use seniority when deciding which workers to retain or transfer when closing outlets;
  • Senate Bill 723, which would make permanent a temporary law passed during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect return rights of workers in the hospitality industry who are laid off.
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