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Legislature passes three of top four bills backed by organized labor

Legislature passes three of top four bills backed by organized labor
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union march in support of El Super grocery workers in Inglewood last fall, calling for paid sick leave as well as higher pay and more work hours. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Organized labor is having a good year at the Capitol.

The Democrat-dominated Legislature passed and sent to the governor three of four union-priority bills. And Gov. Jerry Brown has already indicated he'll sign at least one of them.

That's AB 1562, and it would guarantee three days of paid sick leave to 6.5 million people. Brown praised lawmakers for taking what he called "historic action" by amending and approving the legislation by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego).

But the Service Employees International Union was disappointed that a deal cut by the governor excluded 250,000 state-paid home healthcare workers. "The governor thought it was OK for one group of workers to go to work sick," said Laphonza Butler, president of the SEIU State Council.

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Overall, labor was pleased. "We certainly had some important victories coming out of the Legislature," said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation.

Two other legislative successes were a bill to revise wage and safety laws affecting temporary workers and another to provide greater protection for franchise owners in disputes with parent companies. The governor, however, has not taken a position on either bill.

Assembly bill 1897 by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) is aimed at large companies that hire outside contractors to do warehouse, janitorial and other tasks. It would make the big companies — and their contractors — jointly liable for wage and safety violations that affect so-called perma-temp employees.

Senate bill 610 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) would provide legal protection for franchise owners from losing their businesses in disputes with the home office.

But unions didn't get everything they wanted. They struck out, for instance, with AB 2416 by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley).

Legislators never held a final vote on his bill to give workers more power to collect money owed them by scofflaw employers. The bill was aimed at cases of "wage theft," when employers fail to pay money owed to workers. It would have allowed workers to seek liens on the property of employers or the places where they had worked.

Labor's archenemy at the Capitol is the state's biggest business lobby, the California Chamber of Commerce, which is asking Brown to veto the three union-priority bills that made it to his desk, saying they would pile more expensive mandates on employers.

The chamber, said its policy advocate, Jennifer Barrera, supports the idea of keeping sick people home from work but is concerned that small businesses can't afford to pay for the sick days.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to act on bills, and Barrera says the chamber is "still up in the air about where we stand at the end of session."

Greasy crime

French fry grease never seemed so valuable. The Legislature sent the governor a bill making it a misdemeanor to steal used cooking oil. Often used to make vehicle biofuels, it fetches a high price and is often the target of midnight raiders.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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