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WECA Political Update April 28, 2023

Friday, April 28, 2023

Legislative Calendar:

·        April 28 – Last day for policy committees to hear fiscal bills

·        May 5 – Last day for policy committees to hear non-fiscal bills

·        May 12 – Last day for policy committees to meet before June 5

·        May 19 – Last day for fiscal committees to hear and report to the floor bills introduced in their house

·        June 2 – Last day for each house to pass bills introduced in that house

·        June 15 – Budget must be passed by midnight

·        July 14 to August 14 – Summer recess

Now and Then, a Win!  Freshman State Senator Aisha Wahab (D - Fremont)  introduced SB 574 earlier this year; it would have prohibited state agencies from undertaking major construction projects exceeding $35 million unless that project was governed by a project labor agreement (PLA) and that PLA included a “community benefit goal.” While the bill took influence from President Biden’s Executive Order (EO), her bill was both an expansion of that EO and, at the same time, failed to include several exceptions that are included in Biden’s EO. The California Conference of Carpenters, continuing their “personal distancing” on PLAs and Skilled and Trained Workforce, submitted a letter of concern stating: “A mandated PLA requirement may unfairly exclude certain types of construction workers and restrict contractors from utilizing the most qualified workers to the detriment of the project, the state agency, and the construction workforce. What’s most desperately needed in the construction industry is greater enforcement of existing labor law.” (Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction’s Eric Christen couldn’t have said it better)! The author’s office indicated that she would amend the bill to exempt transportation, water, and housing projects from her bill.

In addition to the State Building and Construction Trades Council, SB 574 was supported by the California State Association of Electrical Workers, the California State Pipe Trades Council, and the Western Council of Sheet Metal Workers. The Construction Employer’s Association (CEA), the Plumbing-Heating, Cooling Contractors Association of California (CAPHCC), and WECA opposed it. The CEA noted, “PLAs often conflict with subcontracting clauses due to jurisdictional disputes between various crafts, placing general contractors in the unenviable role of violating their CBAs. For example, a PLA may mandate using one craft even though more than one can perform that work. By mandating PLAs, the state would have to choose winners and losers. It is one thing to facilitate the use of union signatory employers, which is something CEA would support, and something entirely different for the state to dictate what craft can perform what work on any given project.” WECA and CAPHCC noted a PLA mandate “is discriminatory and increases the cost of construction.” The Senate Governmental Organization Committee was scheduled to hear the bill on April 25, but the author withdrew the bill the Sunday before the hearing.

So, why did Wahab pull her bill only days before a hearing? First and probably foremost, sources in the Senate said the committee chairman didn’t like the bill. Most legislation is “transactional,” meaning “you want something, I want something.” SB 574 was straightforward. The State will give the State Building and Construction Trades Council and their constituent unions a no-bid, sole source contract for all construction labor on State construction (above $35 million.) Second, the trades are quite pleased with the obsequious conduct of the Newsom administration to mandate PLAs on major State construction without legislation spotlighting current contracting by the State. According to our sources, the trades were not even asked about the bill before it was introduced.

Wahab is the first Muslim elected to the California State Legislature. Wahab served on the Hayward City Council from 2018 to 2022 and was one of the first Afghan-Americans elected to public office, alongside New Hampshire state representative Safiya Wazir. Wahab was born in Queens, New York City, to refugees who fled Afghanistan in the 1980s. Her father was murdered, and her mother died soon after, leaving Wahab and her sister in foster care. They were adopted by an Afghan couple in Fremont, California, and moved to Hayward in 2008.

She is not shying away from taking up controversial issues. In addition to SB 574, she is the author of SB 403, a bill that would make California the first in the nation to outlaw caste-based discrimination. She is reportedly receiving Islamophobic threats from the U.S. and abroad. She has said her office was flooded with dozens of hateful calls, hundreds of emails, and individuals yelling at staff in her district office after she introduced the legislation last week.

Hundreds of witnesses appeared this week to provide testimony for and against this bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. People of South Asian descent, particularly Dalits at the lowest strata of the caste system, say the bill is crucial to protect them from discrimination in housing, education, and tech sectors. Among the organizations supporting the measure are Hindus for Caste Equity and the Sikh Coalition, which noted that Sikhs know "firsthand the pain and trauma that comes with being repeatedly targeted by hate and discrimination." It also spurred pushback from groups such as the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America. They say the bill targets Hindus and Indian Americans commonly associated with the caste system. The organizations have submitted letters of opposition, saying Wahab's measure "seeks to codify" negative stereotypes and stigmas that Hindus and Indian Americans face. Critics also say current laws offer protections against discrimination, including caste. After more than three hours of testimony, the Committee approved the bill unanimously.

Wahab is also attempting to impose job limitations on former staff like those placed on lawmakers. Specifically, SB 573 would prohibit legislative staffers from taking a job in a lobbying firm for two years after leaving the Capitol. Wahab argues that such a policy would protect the integrity of the legislative process and prevent high turnover. Still, opponents say it unfairly restricts workers who may have few other opportunities outside of a legislative position. The bill has reignited conversations about the meager pay (and sometimes poor treatment) legislative staff receives — issues central to the ongoing push for staff unionization. Things got contentious at a committee hearing when Wahab suggested that opponents, including the leaders of a group born out of the #MeToo movement, We Said Enough, were using survivors as “a prop to not have lobbying reform.” That set off a wave of outrage from staffers, survivors, and lawmakers who called Wahab’s remarks an unacceptable public attack. In a tweet, We Said Enough said it is exploring legal options for the two women who testified in opposition, former-staffers-turned lobbyists Samantha Corbin and Alicia Benavidez. Nevertheless, the bill passed out of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee. A spokesperson for Wahab sent Politico a prepared statement on the incident, saying the senator supports victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. She “respects everyone’s right to speak their truth on matters that impact them,” the statement said, and hopes “to continue to engage with the opponents of this bill.” Wahab’s comments caught the attention of Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, who was part of the legislature’s #MeToo movement in 2017 and this year is championing the bipartisan bill that would allow staff to form a union. McKinnor said she found Wahab’s comments disturbing and added that such a bill would have the opposite of the intended effect and “stop people from even wanting to work here. This is an important job,” she said. “We need our staff here.” Like SB 574, Wahab decided she’d hold 573 until next year.


California Legislature Specializes in Bad Ideas

The Senate Governance and Finance Committee passed SB 584 (Limón - D), which would create the Laborforce Housing Financing Act of 2023 and define “laborforce housing” as housing that, among other things, is owned and managed by specified entities solely for the benefit of residents and households unable to afford market rent, and whose residents enjoy certain protections. The bill would impose the first statewide Transient Occupancy Taxe (TOT) of 15% on short-term rentals. In recent years, internet-based platforms like Homeaway, VRBO and Airbnb have facilitated increasing numbers of short-term rentals of homes and rooms within residences. Short-term or vacation rentals are usually an individual’s residential property, such as a home, room, apartment, or condominium, that they rent out to a visitor for fewer than 30 consecutive days. Generally, the home-sharing industry involves three primary participants: (1) the home-sharing platforms, such as Airbnb, that advertise residential properties offered for temporary rental and facilitates connecting renters with hosts for a fee, and process payment for the rental, (2) the consumer who is often referred to as the “renter” “guest,” or “visitor” of the residential property, and (3) the supplier, owner, operator, or “host” of the residential property. Short-term rentals are not a new practice, but the development of online hosting platforms, bookings, advertisements, and payments has increased.

What is unique about SB 584 is that it is sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council, and because of that, the bill requires that a PLA would do all construction under SB 584. The fact that the bill’s sponsorers would obtain a sole-source, no-bid contract for all construction labor did not trouble the author, Senator Limon, and Senators Blakespear, Caballero, Cortese, McGuire, Skinner, Umberg, Wahab, and Wiener, who all voted AYE. Republican Senators Ochoa Bogh, and Seyarto voted No, while Senator Padilla abstained.

Expedia (the parent company of VRBO) and Airbnb are in “negotiations” with the sponsors, but those would only mitigate their exposure to the TOT, and we have alerted the hotels that they will be the next TOT target.

General trade and public sector unions – the top two donor categories – have contributed over $700,000 to Limon.


The Senate Education Committee approved SB 394 (Gonzalez - D) This bill requires the California Energy Commission (CEC), upon appropriation by the Legislature, to convene a group of agencies and stakeholders to develop a master plan for healthy, sustainable, and climate-resilient schools. WECA opposes requirements in the bill that mandate the plan includes “recommendations to ensure that local educational agencies have access to sufficient technical assistance, professional learning, training programs, and pipelines of sustainability and climate resilience personnel to implement decarbonization and adaptation plans that include high road labor standards, project labor agreements with unionized workforces…’ 

SB 830 (Smallwood-Cuevas - D), which overturns the Russ Will decision and makes the custom fabrication of sheet metal ducts or similar sheet metal products for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems produced offsite and solely and specifically designed and engineered for installation in a particular public works project subject to the payment of prevailing wages. WECA opposes and expects this will eventually be expanded to all material purchases.

Arizona Has More Water Too many Valley residents have noticed water flowing in the normally dry Salt River as snow from this active winter continues to melt. As Arizona grapples with the Colorado River shortages and a drought that has persisted for decades, this winter has been a huge relief for SRP’s reservoir system, which provides water to about 2.5 million Valley residents. Because of the productive storms experienced this winter and the subsequent runoff, SRP reservoirs on the Verde and Salt Rivers have reached or will soon reach full capacity. Full reservoirs provide three years of water supply for SRP customers. Story

Arias throws hat in the ring for Fresno Co. Supervisor seat: Fresno City Council member Miguel Arias turned a once-straightforward mentor-mentee fight on its head. Arias announced joining the race to oust two-term Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero. In the process, Arias will face off against one of his colleagues, Luis Chavez. Once an acolyte and chief of staff to Quintero, Chavez kicked off his candidacy earlier in the year with a call for a change of representation at Fresno County's Hall of Records. Arias, who routinely relishes a good battle on the dais at Fresno's City Hall, will likely bring a new dynamic to the campaign trail providing a sharper contrast between how the city and county of Fresno operate.

Legislative Staff to Unionize? State lawmakers have agreed to include language protecting minority-party staffers in a bill that would eliminate a ban on collective bargaining in the Capitol, according to a Republican lawmaker pushing for the change. The announcement from Assemblymember Tom Lackey’s office came right before the Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee approved the closely-watched Assembly Bill 1 by Assembly Member Tina McKinnor, previously a legislative staffer at its first hearing. The effort to give legislative staffers the same right to unionize already granted to other state employees has run into roadblocks in recent years, stalled by opposition from some moderate Democrats. Support from even a handful of Republican lawmakers could give the hard-fought legislation an edge. Lackey’s office said this week that the Palmdale Republican wanted to see bill amendments requiring minority-party staffers to receive equal pay and be included in the same collective bargaining group as those from the majority party. That request stems from what Republican lawmakers say is longstanding unequal treatment for their staffers. “Republicans have been treated as second-class citizens within this institution for decades, with unequal pay for the same titles, inability to participate in certain legislative-sanctioned caucuses, and equal access to committee consultants,” said George Andrews, Lackey’s chief of staff in a Monday email.

Palm Springs Democrat Christy Holstege has officially launched a challenge to Republican Greg Wallis in Assembly District 47 after losing the seat by just 85 votes last year.