Whoever replaces Sen. Feinstein will be beholden to California’s labor unions

One thing is clear about the 2024 race to replace retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein: barring a highly unlikely Republican win, her replacement will be beholden to the state’s powerful labor unions.

That was clear May 7 when the California Labor Federation hosted a “salon” in Sacramento at the glitzy Sheraton Grand Ballroom. Featured were the Democratic Party’s three top contenders, Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Orange County and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

Hosting was CLF Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez. She’s the former assemblywoman from San Diego who in 2019 sponsored Assembly Bill 5, which severely restricted the gig worker industry to the benefit of the unions. She gushed, “We have three candidates who have stellar records for organized labor. It’s an embarrassment of riches, quite frankly.”

Under California’s Top Two system, it’s quite possible no Republican will make the final cut after the primary, with two of the Democrats scooting to the November runoff. That actually happened in 2016, when Kamala Harris, now the vice president, won against Rep. Loretta Sanchez. And again in 2018, when Feinstein won against Kevin de Leon, now a Los Angeles council member who has refused to resign after racist comments were revealed.

The unanimity of the three Senate contenders was shown in their endorsement of the PRO Act — for Protecting the Right to Organize. It would sharply curtail the right-to-work laws in 27 states that, in fact, protect the right of workers not to be forced to join a union. California is not a right-to-work state, so the law likely wouldn’t affect this already highly pro-union state.

In addition, Porter backed a “functioning” National Labor Relations Board, to “make sure workers” — meaning the union — “and not just private equity fat cats benefit from the economy.” Schiff said he wanted to “eliminate the filibuster,” by which the minority party, currently the Republicans, commonly can stymie legislation in the Senate with just 41 votes of 100.

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And Lee called for “a living wage, not just a minimum wage, like the Fight for 15,” meaning the movement to pass a $15 hourly minimum wage nationally. It already succeeded in California, where inflation adjustments already pushed it to $15.50. A “living wage” is indefinite, but could be as high as $76 in Los Angeles, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator.

“California policymakers care far more about catering to unions and getting their support in return than they do about everyday Californians,” Kerry Jackson, fellow in the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute, told us. “Organized labor owns politics in this state and it’s likely to stay that way for some time, and moving beyond it is going to be a painful process.”

He warned of “almost existential crises” hitting the state, including housing affordability, a confiscatory revenue system driving away both high earners and the middle class, low-performing schools and unfunded public pension liabilities.

The Republican Party needs to get its act together with a reasonable candidate. Democracy means the voters have real choices.

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