How labor controversies in California could reshape the workers landscape

Hotel workers protest outside a hotel.
Hotel workers protest outside the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica.

Good morning. It’s Monday, Jan. 29. I’m Suhauna Hussain, a labor reporter at the L.A. Times. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

‘Hot Labor Summer’ is long gone. But California is still a ground-zero for labor actions.

A resurgence in labor activity last summer hit California in large part due to corporate greed, low unemployment and our unique housing crisis, as my colleague Sam Dean wrote in August. The Hollywood strikes that defined the city last year may have ended (read more about the actors’ deal or the writers’ deal), and more and more hotel workers are coming to agreements with their managements.

But labor controversies are still rolling through the courts, universities and workplaces. Here are some developments to pay attention to if you care about California labor policy or workers’ rights.


A judge ruled that a criminal case against the ‘Justice 8’ activists who defend street vendors could proceed

Edin Alex Enamorado and other activists defending street vendors face charges related to some of their controversial tactics. After a five-day preliminary hearing that concluded Jan. 10, a judge dropped some charges but ruled that a criminal case could proceed. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano argued in a recent column that the charges constitute prosecutorial overreach, calling the police officers, sheriff’s deputies and detectives who served as witnesses “unprepared and unconvincing.”

Newsom sought to delay healthcare minimum wage increase

About 500,000 California healthcare workers were expected to see pay increases beginning in June under a new law bumping up their industry’s minimum wage. Citing budget woes, Gov. Gavin Newsom is seeking to delay the pay raises. It’s unclear what the new timeline will look like. Labor advocates say they are worried about how budget concerns will further impact workers’ gains — not only in the timeline for newly enacted legislation, but depleted staffing for state agencies enforcing laws around workers’ health and safety and wage theft claims

California’s civil rights department sued a grocery company

The lawsuit alleges that Ralphs illegally denied jobs to hundreds of people based on their criminal history. The suit is the first of its kind under the state’s Fair Chance Act, which limits the use of conviction history in hiring decisions. It’s part of a push to combat discrimination that formerly incarcerated people face when looking for work.


A USC case could determine the future of college athletics

Are USC football and basketball players employees under the National Labor Relations Act? That’s a question that the NLRB began hearing arguments for in November. The outcome could potentially mean universities would have to pay their athletes, with potentially existential implications for the current business model.

Striking hotel workers were allegedly hit by pellet gun projectiles; union criticizes police response

Last week four workers and one union organizer with Unite Here Local 11 were protesting outside Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles when they were “repeatedly fired upon, apparently with an air rifle,” the union said. It appears to be the latest incident in which workers have been attacked as they protested outside properties in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Unite Here Local 11 officials criticized the police response as “deficient and problematic.” Los Angeles police did not arrive at the scene for three hours and in that time a third worker was struck on the collarbone, the union said. After months of strikes, approximately half of some 60 Southern California hotels involved have reached tentative deals with workers.

The University of California rejected a proposal to hire undocumented student workers

The governing board of the UC system has declined to move forward with a plan to hire immigrant students who lack legal work authorization. UC regents argued implementing the plan could open the institution up to risk. The decision deals a blow to students suffering financial hardship who are blocked from obtaining campus jobs. California is home to about 1 in 5 of the nation’s college students who lack legal authorization.


Cal State and its faculty union reached a tentative agreement one day into a massive strike

Last week the faculty union at California State University began a strike slated to last a week, but cut it short and reached a tentative agreement after just one day. The deal was met with some confusion and has received mixed reviews.

Today’s top stories

A crowd forms at a taco stand.
A crowd forms at a street vendor’s taco stand off Sierra Avenue in Fontana.

In and around Los Angeles

Disney hopes to expand further into Anaheim

A ton of water’s fallen from the sky. It’s not the whole story.

Politicos are battling it out in California races

Sorry, there’s still COVID-19 news

The Superbowl is upon us

More big stories

And.... pretty excited about this one

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Commentary and opinions


Today’s great reads

Two soldiers have their arms around another man who is wearing a cap.
(Kenji Kawano)

One man is preserving the legacy of the code talkers, America’s secret weapon in WWII. Kenji Kawano has been photographing the Navajo code talkers, America’s secret weapon during WWII, for 50 years. It all started in 1975 with a chance encounter that would take over his life.

Other great reads

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For your downtime

A variety of foods are on a table.
The Ladyhawk in West Hollywood offers a variety of tasty Lebanese dishes.
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Going out

Staying in


And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

Two men rest against a wall.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Today’s great photo is from staff photographer Genaro Molina. The annual three-night Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count is underway.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Suhauna Hussain, reporter
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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