Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) announced her resignation from the Assembly on Monday to become the next leader of the California Labor Federation, one of the largest and most influential union groups in California, later this year.
Gonzalez, a graduate of Stanford University, Georgetown University, and UCLA, got her start in politics in the early 2000’s as a senior advisor to then-Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante. However, her background as a community activist and organizer won her influence among those in labor, as well as a failed run for San Diego City Council against future Mayor Kevin Faulconer in 2005, culminated with her becoming the CEO and Secretary-Treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO in 2008.
After five years as one of the most powerful labor leaders in the state, Gonzalez was elected to the Assembly in 2013, where she quickly became one of the top union and worker advocates in Sacramento. Among some of her more notable bills were AB 1522, a 2014 bill-turned-law that granted sick days to part-time employees, and AB 480, a 2017 passed bill that added child care product subsidies for parents entering the workforce while coming off of welfare.
However, by far her largest and most controversial legislation was AB 5, the 2019 law that drastically altered the contractor worker landscape in the state by having most contractor employees be reclassified as employees. While the aim was to have more workers provided labor protections and more benefits such as health coverage, the law instead hurt many independent contractors, caused many companies to hire fewer people because of the increased costs, and proved to be so inconsistent that the law has been consistently been altered – even before coming into law in 2020.
While AB 5 has been somewhat weakened since becoming law, with many industries such as rideshare companies and trucking groups fighting to remain exempt through legal action and voter propositions, it still stands in California as of January 2022 and remains a major victory for the labor movement in California.
Due to her labor background and work as an architect of several pro-labor pieces of legislation in the past, she had been touted s a replacement for longtime CLF Executive-Secretary Art Pulaski for some time. In November, the CLF was confident enough in Gonzalez that they voted to recommend her as their next leader.
The question of her acceding Pulaski was still open until late December when redistricting of Assembly districts pushed Gonzalez into the same district as Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego). Facing a potential polarizing primary election this June, as well as having to recover from a recent bout of cancer and the invitation of leading the CLF still open, Gonzalez agreed to the position on Monday.
Gonzalez out in the Assembly
Speaking from the opening of the January session on Monday, Gonzalez gave her farewell to the Assembly.
“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,” said Gonzalez. “I’m very excited about this opportunity.”
“We expanded workplace rights for grocery workers, hotel workers, warehouse workers, janitors and home healthcare workers, paramedics, nail technicians, construction workers, clerical staff, delivery drivers, gig workers, garment workers, disabled workers and more. First in the nation’ described countless laws we wrote pertaining to worker rights and more. We did a lot. But the only way to truly change the lives of working Californians is to empower them at work. No law is ever as powerful as a union contract. So, now, I will simply continue my service by singularly focusing on strengthening the labor movement.”
I just announced my resignation from the State Assembly so that I can accept a job with the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO in preparation for becoming its leader in July. This move will allow me to continue my life’s commitment to serve & empower working Californians.
— Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (@LorenaSGonzalez) January 3, 2022
Pulaski, who has led the CLF since 1996, approved Gonzalez as his probable successor on Monday.
“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,” added Pulaski. “Assemblymember Gonzalez lives and breathes union values every day.”
While Gonzalez received many other goodbye praises on Monday, others noted that her leaving would be positive for the Assembly.
“Labor just lost its strongest ally in the Assembly,” said “Dana,” a Capitol staffer to the Globe. “We’ve gotten a bunch of calls about this from worried union people. They’re happy she’ll be the head of the [CLF], but they are terrified as this could mean that AB 5 will be left more undefended and that other labor bills won’t have quite as big a supporter. Of course, many others like this and hope that her vacancy is otherwise filled with someone not as strong in labor.”
“Honestly, about as many are cheering her going out of the Assembly as being saddened by it. She’s still in a powerful position and can easily go back into politics from where she is at. But she’s out now.”
Gonzalez will have a as-of-yet unknown role within the CLF until July, when an election for union leadership is to be held after Pulaski’s stepping down. A special election is expected to take place sometime this year to fill her now vacant Assembly seat.
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