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Newsom vetoes bill to provide COVID-19 rehiring protections

Newsom vetoes bill to provide COVID-19 rehiring protections

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have provided sweeping new labor protections for workers laid off during the pandemic by requiring hotel, airport and janitorial employers to rehire based on seniority.

Assembly Bill 3216 by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) called for employers in those industries to first rehire workers they laid off during a state of emergency, including in cases in which a new owner takes over a business. The protections pushed by labor groups targeted businesses, including event centers and building maintenance, that have let go a third of their workforce as a result of COVID-19.

Newsom said the bill was too prescriptive and threatened to hurt the already devastated hospitality industry.

“I recognize the real problem this bill is trying to fix — to ensure that workers who have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic have certainty about their rehiring and job security,” Newsom said in his veto message, adding that the bill would apply to layoffs unrelated to a state of emergency.

“Tying the bill’s provisions to a state of emergency will create a confusing patchwork of requirements in different counties at different times,” Newsom’s message said.

Newsom’s veto was made public late Wednesday on the final day for the governor to take action on bills passed by the Legislature last month. His veto message for the labor-backed bill was posted online without the governor’s office first announcing it.

Kalra called Newsom’s veto “devastating news.”

“This feels like a missed chance at a recovery for all,” Kalra said Wednesday in a statement.

Kalra, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) called the bill a “job saver” in a letter to Newsom urging the governor to sign the bill.

Republicans and business groups opposed the bill, arguing that the “right of recall” provisions — which would require employers to extend offers of employment to laid-off workers — were unworkable and would hamper industries trying to reopen.

The California Chamber of Commerce included AB 3216 on its annual “job killer” list highlighting laws corporate interests say will hurt employment and the economy. The chamber said the bill “imposes an onerous and stringent process for specific employers to return employees to the workforce, which will delay rehiring and subject employers to litigation for any alleged mistakes.”

The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small business interests, highlighted AB 3216 as an example of California making it harder for businesses to rebound from the pandemic.

“Small employers need flexibility to hire or rehire during these terrible times on Main Street,” said John Kabateck, the California state director at the National Federation of Independent Business, which has 15,000 members in California. “AB 3216 places far too many rules and requirements on already fragile mom and pops, forcing them to adhere to unreasonable timelines and procedures or face the likelihood of frivolous lawsuits brought upon by scheming plaintiffs attorneys.”

With business interests pushing hard for Newsom to veto the bill, labor groups ramped up their own campaign to see it signed.

Nine labor leaders appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery sent a letter Sept. 13 urging Newsom to sign the bill, saying the protections are needed to ensure there is a “fair and equitable recovery that will help some of those Californians most hard-hit by the pandemic and economic crisis — Latinos, immigrants and women workers.”

The labor leaders highlighted a story in The Los Angeles Times featuring Raquel Lezama, a minibar attendant laid off in March from the luxury hotel Mr. C Beverly Hills. Lezama said that after she was laid off, she was told her termination was final and that if the hotel rehired in the future, she would have to reapply and start at minimum wage with no seniority.

Thousands of workers share similar stories, wrote the labor leaders, including D. Taylor, president of Unite Here, Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation, Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU International and Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“The lack of recall or retention rights gives employers the ability to rehire workers at lower pay rates without any seniority,” the letter to the governor reads. “They can hide discrimination against older workers or workplace activists that may have raised issues in the past.”

Right to recall protections have been adopted in several California cities, including in Santa Monica, the city and county of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach, Hernandez said. Santa Monica adopted a right to retention ordinance following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which left many too scared to travel “and resulted in tremendous declines in tourism,” said Santa Monica City Councilwoman Gleam Davis.

“We got the same apocalyptic warnings that this will be bad for business and would hurt the ability of the economy to come back,” Davis said. “That turned out not to be true. Our economy came back stronger than ever, but the best thing about it was the workers who helped build the economy in the first place were able to participate in that recovery.”

Walter Almendarez, 43, of Palmdale said the bill would have ensured he would get his job back and given him a peace of mind that he hasn’t felt in months. Almendarez said he was fired along with his coworkers as the pandemic hit in March from Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, where he worked for 23 years and made $15.45 an hour as a bellman at the hotel. He said beyond the likelihood that he will have to start over at minimum wage, he will also lose the more generous vacation benefits the hotel no longer offers new employees.

The hotel would have been required to rehire workers let go due to the pandemic under local ordinances, Almendarez said, but its owners have since announced that they plan to reopen as a private club, though it will not be fully closed to the public. AB 3216 applied the rehire protections to private clubs.

“There are a lot of people who work in the hotel industry who are impacted,” Almendarez said. “I’m still struggling with my bills and my mortgage. Now, there are no jobs anywhere.”

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