Business

California governor vetoes return-to-work bill for many laid-off workers

Posted October 1, 2020 4:36 p.m. EDT

— California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill that supporters say would have guaranteed many workers laid off because of the pandemic the right to get their jobs back once economic conditions improve, citing too high a burden on struggling employers.

The legislation, which had passed overwhelmingly in the Democratic-controlled state legislature, required that employers in certain industries — hotels, private clubs, airports or who provide building services to commercial buildings — would have rehire laid-off workers when they decided it was time to increase their workforces once again.

But Newsom said the legislation would impose too great a burden on employers who are trying to survive the financial wallop of the crisis.

"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," said Newsom in his veto statement late Wednesday. But, he added, the bill would "place too onerous a burden on employers navigating these tough challenges."

Newsom's veto was praised by business groups in the state.

The California Chamber of Commerce said the legislation "would have delayed the rehire of thousands of employees and slowed the economic recovery of many employers who have been the hardest hit by this pandemic," adding that the group is "grateful that the Governor chose not to further burden these industries at a time when they can least afford it."

But unions in the state attacked the veto as a blow to many of the state's most vulnerable workers.

"This veto is devastating to the low wage workers who built the hospitality industry, especially women of color, who were looking for a leader to walk with them through this time of struggle," said California union Unite Here in a statement.

The union's statement included a comment from Maria Sanchez, a laid-off worker who works for concession company Aramark at Anaheim Convention Center: "What am I to do without the job that I've depended on for so long? Am I supposed to beg my boss not to replace me?"

While this statewide bill would have been more sweeping, many of California's largest cities — including Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco and Oakland — have enacted their own rehiring ordinances in response to the pandemic. And California law already had worker retention laws for the janitorial industry and the grocery industry.

Also, some union contracts such as those in airlines, aerospace and automaker industries do include recall provisions. But those provisions depend upon the specific contract language agreed to by both sides, and unions that represent lower-wage workers are often unable to get those kinds of guarantees.

The issues in California are reflective of the challenge the American labor market faces at large, but the temporary layoff picture has been improving. At the low point of US employment in April, there were 18 million people who were out of work due to temporary layoffs. Many of those are now back to work, and in August there were only 6.2 million left on temporary layoffs.

Friday's jobs report will be the last look at the American labor market before the election. Economists expect an unemployment rate of 8.2% — only slightly less than in August — which would be the highest jobless rate on record.

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