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California Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez steps down to lead labor federation

Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, receives congratulations from Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, after her bill to give new wage and benefit protections at the so-called gig economy companies was approved by the Assembly in Sacramento.

The California Legislature will lose one of its most ardent supporters of organized labor this week after Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez announced she will step down to take a job with one of the state’s most powerful union groups.

The San Diego Democrat will lead the California Labor Federation — which advocates for about 1,200 unions across the state — in July, when longtime chief Art Pulaski plans to retire.

Gonzalez made the announcement barely an hour into the first session of 2022, shocking many of her colleagues. Her resignation will take effect Wednesday at close of business.

“I’m sorry this has come so sudden and I didn’t give you warning, but sometimes that happens,” she said. “The opportunity to serve in this capacity doesn’t come up but every few decades and as I think you all know, serving working Californians is my singular priority.”

Gonzalez was first elected to the Assembly in a 2013 special election. Since then, she has authored some of the most consequential labor laws in the state and country, including a $15 minimum wage and a new law meant to crack down on Amazon warehouse quotas.

She also wrote Assembly Bill 5, which required companies to classify most of their contract workers as employees and provide health care and other benefits. The law received significant pushback from business groups.

In 2020, app-based companies including Uber, Lyft and DoorDash spent $200 million on a ballot campaign to exempt themselves from the law. Prop 22 was successful, but has since been struck down in court and is in the midst of an ongoing legal battle.

She has chaired the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee since 2016, a position that provides broad latitude to advance or hold back legislation without public debate.

Pulaski, the Labor Federation’s outgoing leader, said in a statement the organization is “thrilled” to welcome Gonzalez.

“I couldn’t think of a more qualified, passionate and committed leader to continue the critical advocacy of working people at the nation’s largest state federation of unions,” he said in a statement.

Gonzalez recently completed treatment for breast cancer, including a double mastectomy, and said Monday she remained cancer-free. In a letter to supporters, she said she will continue to live in San Diego, where her husband Nathan Fletcher is a county supervisor.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is required to call a special election and set a date to fill the seat within 14 days of Gonzalez’ resignation.

Nicole covers politics and government for CapRadio. Before moving to California, she won several awards, including a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, for her political reporting in her hometown of Salt Lake City. Besides public radio, Nicole is passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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