Has California’s much-dreaded ‘job killer’ list lost some of its bite?

For 26 years, a legislative bill labeled by the California Chamber of Commerce as a “job killer” very likely faced a death sentence.

The chamber, the state’s most influential business organization, inaugurated its annual practice of putting that label on legislation in 1997.

Through 2022 it had targeted 824 measures, most of them sponsored by labor unions, environmental groups and other allies of the Legislature’s dominant Democrats. Typically, the bills raised taxes, imposed new regulations or increased employee benefits.

However, just 157 landed on the desks of five governors, three Democrats and two Republicans, and only 59 were signed. That translates into a 93% kill ratio for the business lobby.

Sponsors of the rejected legislation seethed but never could overcome the dreaded “job killer” epithet, even after Gavin Newsom became the most left-leaning governor in state history. In the first four years of his governorship, just eight of the 94 bills targeted by the chamber reached his desk and he signed five.

All of that, however, is history, and this year the groups that sponsor bills with the “job killer” label seem to be improving their records.

Only 17 bills were on this year’s final list, one of the smallest numbers ever, and while eight of them died in the Legislature – mostly without votes – and two were altered enough to have the label removed, seven were sent to Newsom and he’ll probably sign most of them.

In fact, Newsom has already signed one that he sponsored, which creates an office to monitor gasoline prices and fine refiners if they make profits deemed to be excessive.

The remaining six are all union-sponsored measures that either improve worker benefits or increase job security. Two big labor-management clashes over wages in the fast food and health care sectors were taken off the list after compromises were reached.

The most controversial remaining measure, and the one most in danger of being vetoed, is Senate Bill 799, which would allow striking workers to obtain unemployment insurance benefits.

SB 799 is the California Labor Federation’s top priority, and it and the chamber-led business community have mounted high-octane lobbying campaigns for and against Newsom’s signature.

The bill grew out of this year’s widespread labor union demands for more money and job security, backed up by strikes, including those of movie production writers and actors.

Proponents say it would level the field in labor relations while employers say it would force them to underwrite strikes and put a new burden on the state Unemployment Insurance fund, which already has multibillion-dollar deficit.

Newsom hasn’t said what he will do about SB 799 but has voiced some skepticism, telling a recent Politico forum, “I think one has to be cautious about that before you enter the conversation about expanding its utilization.”

While labor unrest fueled relative successful union efforts this year, another factor was Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s segue from a state Assembly seat into the top position in the California Labor Federation.

Fletcher was one of the few legislators to score wins on bills labeled as “job killers” and brought that messianic drive to her new job as the state’s top union official.

Union successes in the Legislature this year have sparked some self-examination in business circles. Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, a prominent business group, complained in an interview with Politico that “we’re not feeling like we have a seat at the table, and we need to earn one and we need to do it quickly.”

Wunderman’s group has formed an alliance with the Los Angeles County Business Federation, called the New California Coalition, to ramp up lobbying efforts.

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