California Governor Gavin Newsom stands in front of the CA seal.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom Vetoes Unemployment Bill for Striking Workers and Everyone Is Pissed

California Governor Gavin Newsom has been getting a lot of national attention lately. In many ways, he has been presented as an example of governing from the left: a non-DC counterpart to the right wing’s extremist agenda. But the liberal governor found himself in hot water over a bill he recently vetoed. Strangely, the veto has gone largely uncovered, likely due to Republican drama dominating the news. In fact, Newsom has made more headlines for his reactions to the GOP debate than his actual governance. However, this past week has been an interesting one for the blue juggernaut state of California and the man who leads it.

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The bill at the center of this controversy, S.B. 799, would have let workers on strike for two weeks or longer receive unemployment checks from the state. The amount would have been as much as $450 per recipient. In normal circumstances, the unemployment rules only allow benefits to people who lost their jobs due to forces beyond their control. A strike wouldn’t technically fall under that category. Democratic state lawmakers saw this legislation as a way to support everyone from Hollywood actors and writers to hotel workers. While the writers strike just ended, many workers are still going months without pay.

Newsom vetoed this bill, breaking with leaders in his own party’s legislature. He said that he is a supporter of workers and labor unions but couldn’t sign this bill because the fund that’s used to pay unemployment benefits will be approaching $20 billion in debt by year’s end. Newsom stated in a press release, “Now is not the time to increase costs or incur this sizable debt.” Regardless of the specifics of the fund and this bill, the language used here is something that’s not often heard in the mainstream Democratic narrative. Democrats are not often portrayed as the party that prioritizes costs and debts. Newsom’s decision, while disappointing to most progressives, will at least give him some leverage when the right tries to attack him for meaningless spending.

Many in the state are still quite upset. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, was not a fan of Newsom’s veto. In a statement to NPR, she said that the veto “tips the scales” in favor of corporations. She also believes that Newsom’s decision is not in line with most Americans who support unions and workers. While the governor’s concerns seem valid from a budgeting standpoint, supporters argue that the amount of people on strike for more than two weeks isn’t large enough to have a substantial impact on the fund itself. While this specific extension for striking workers doesn’t look promising, unemployment benefits as a whole have increased in the state. His administration has predicted that benefits will exceed tax collections by about $1.1 billion. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, this is the first time that discrepancy has occurred during a job growth period. 

It is important to note that if there’s enough support, the law to give striking workers unemployment could still pass. However, California hasn’t overruled a governor’s veto in decades. And this isn’t the only labor-related bill Governor Newson has vetoed. On Saturday, he vetoed Senate Bill 686 which would have added household domestic service workers to the list of protected employees under California’s Occupational Safety and Health Act. The proposed law would have meant that the only excluded workers would have been publicly funded workers in these fields. The bill also would have required household domestic service employers to comply with important safety and health regulations by 2025. Many people wanted this as a way to protect service industry employees who are so important in the state, especially since a disproportionate amount of them are black and brown workers. 

These two vetoes provide interesting context to the state of politics in California. Newsom has been propped up as a potential future presidential candidate for the Democratic party. But there’s some disconnect within his own state. It will be fascinating to see if this hurts his brand at all. And we will be on the lookout to see if any of these two bills can muster up enough votes to override his veto and pass anyway.

(featured image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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