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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez resigns from Legislature to lead California Labor Federation

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) speaks to a crowd.
California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) may best be known for efforts to expand worker rights.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) announced her resignation Monday and said she plans to take over as leader of the California Labor Federation when its longtime executive-secretary treasurer, Art Pulaski, steps down this summer.

Gonzalez made the announcement during the opening floor session of the year, marking a major shift at the state Capitol as one of labor’s most formidable allies inside the Legislature steps away to lead the movement statewide.

For the record:

5:01 p.m. Jan. 3, 2022An earlier version of this story identified Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s husband as San Diego City Councilman Nathan Fletcher. Fletcher is a San Diego County supervisor.

“An opportunity to serve in this capacity doesn’t come up but every few decades, and as I think you all know, serving working Californians is my singular priority,” Gonzalez said. “I’m very excited about this opportunity.”

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Pulaski has held the top role at the labor federation since 1996 and focused much of his work on organizing union workers to activate on political campaigns as a crucial force for Democratic candidates.

Gonzalez, 50, will work in an undefined transitional role as the heir apparent to succeed Pulaski until he retires in July, at which time a formal vote to elect her will take place.

“I couldn’t think of a more qualified, passionate and committed leader to continue the critical advocacy of working people at the nation’s largest state federation of unions,” Pulaski said. “Assembly member Gonzalez lives and breathes union values every day.”

Gonzalez may best be known for efforts to expand worker rights, most notably her 2019 law to revamp California’s independent contractor rules. That legislation, Assembly Bill 5, led many workers to be reclassified as employees — a fight that sparked widespread criticism of the San Diego Democrat on social media.

The nation’s most prominent ride-hailing companies subsequently qualified Proposition 22 for the 2020 ballot to allow their drivers to be exempted from provisions of AB 5. The ballot measure was approved by voters but later blocked in court.

Gonzalez is a close ally of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and served as chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee since 2016. Any bill with fiscal impact needs the committee’s approval to reach a floor vote, and the chair is often seen as a gatekeeper on some of the most important and controversial legislation of the year.

Rendon immediately tapped Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who previously led the Utilities and Energy Committee, to become Appropriations Committee chair.

Rendon called Gonzalez one of the Assembly’s “hardest-working members” and said he was sorry to see her go.

“Her devotion to the working people of California is unmatched,” he said. “She stood as a lightning rod on many issues, and I admire how she weathered the storms.”

Raised by a single mother, Gonzalez graduated from Stanford University and earned her law degree at UCLA. She served as leader of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council before being elected to represent San Diego in the Assembly in 2013.

Gonzalez’s time in the Legislature has largely been defined by her advocacy for working families and immigrants, crafting laws to require employers to offer paid sick leave, make diaper sales tax-free and extend overtime pay requirements to farmworkers.

The shift back into the labor movement comes after her plans to run for secretary of state were thwarted when Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed former Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to the job last year.

Should Gonzalez have chosen to seek another two-year term in the Legislature, she would have had to square off against a fellow Democrat, Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego). The residences of both legislators were drawn into a single Assembly district last month by the state’s Citizens Redistricting Commission maps that take effect for the 2022 election cycle and under which some candidates began on Monday to file their initial campaign paperwork.

Gonzalez is still recuperating from surgery following a breast cancer diagnosis. She did not attend the end of last year’s legislative session as a result and spent part of her farewell speech Monday thanking her colleagues for their support in recent weeks. She has spent the last few months at home with her husband, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, and children.

The California Labor Federation consists of some 1,200 unions that represent 2.1 million workers across private and public sector industries. The executive secretary leads the organization and works with a nearly 50-member executive council made up of the heads of labor councils and unions across the state.


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