The California Labor Federation, one of the largest and most influential union groups in California, voted to recommend Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) as their next leader on Tuesday in a non-binding vote.
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 amongst 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 November 2021 and remains a major victory for the labor movement in California.
Gonzalezes’ labor background, as well as her actions as Assemblywoman, led many in labor, including the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council, to back her as the next labor leader earlier this year despite Art Pulaski still holding the Executive Secretary-Treasurer position. But with Pulaski now likely to step down sometime next year, the labor organization is currently looking for “the elements, qualifications, qualities and experience needed for next Executive Secretary-Treasurer”.
This led to a Labor Federation executive council vote on Tuesday, choosing her in a non-binding vote as their next leader of approximately 1,200 unions and 2.1 million workers across the state. While the vote was only a recommendation, the organization made it clear what the group wants to head toward in 2022.
“His thinking is he wants to be ahead of the curve and have this discussion prior to whatever point he retires,” said CLF spokesman Steve Smith in a statement on Tuesday. “Art has been a giant of the movement so this is a huge loss for all of us. But we were very happy for him that he’s going to be able to transition on his own terms and do this the right way.”
“There was a vote on a recommendation for Lorena Gonzalez, but it wasn’t binding.”
Gonzalez herself was frustrated with the press asking her if she was to be the next labor leader on Tuesday after the story first broke on Politico. While she said that no job had been offered, she also did not say for certain that she would not accept it if offered.
“Stop texting me. No one has offered me a job. I read it in Politico too,” tweeted Gonzalez.
Stop texting me. No one has offered me a job. I read it in Politico, too.
— Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (@LorenaSGonzalez) November 24, 2021
2022 Assembly election would be last for Gonzalez due to term limits
The departure of Pulaski, who will likely leave after serving for 25 years as the CLF leader, and the recommendation of Gonzalez means that she might have to make a choice sometime next year between running for reelection in the Assembly, which would be her last time due to term limits, or opting for the union position and opening up her district for an open race.
“It’s a fascinating scenario,” said Tina Dominguez, a Southern California labor organizer and local advisor, to the Globe on Wednesday. “She’d have only two years in the Assembly against however much time she needs to launch a larger campaign as head of a major union. Californian politicians often use union leadership as a major stepping stone. Ronald Reagan was head of the Screen Actors Guild twice before becoming Governor. Cesar Chavez used his union influence to enact major change for farm workers and was behind some of the largest union political-influencing action in the 70’s and 80’s. And so many more went on to state and local government too.”
“If she doesn’t take it, the union might have a hard time finding someone to fill in those leadership shoes. On the other hand, if she takes it, it opens up her district and takes her directly out of elected politics at least for awhile. By state law, she couldn’t even directly contact members of the legislature for a year.
“She has a lot of influence after AB 5, and crucially now, has name recognition. Leading the union is an important and influential job, but she may want to take care of things more from San Diego, Sacramento, or even Washington in the near future. She has a lot to build on after AB 5.”
If formally elected and she accepts the position, Gonzalez would be the first woman and first minority to lead the CLF.
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