Gov. Brown walks fine line with unions

September 12, 2011 5:47:25 PM PDT
There's a big test of just how much power unions hold over state government, now that Gov. Jerry Brown is the governor. There are a number of bills on his desk, backed by labor that the governor has to decide to sign or veto.

Brown was in Los Vegas on Monday addressing union delegates and later this week he speaks to a nurse's union convention in San Francisco. After seven years under a Republican governor, California unions are eager for more laws that work in their favor.

The labor-back bills put Brown in a quandary. Vetoes could strain his relationship with public-employee unions which helped get him elected, but signing them could upset Brown's business friends.

"I think this governor is a maverick. He has a track record of independence. He's going to look at what business wants and what labor wants and do the best thing for the state in this time of economic turmoil," said Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist.

One hot button measure allows subsidized childcare providers the ability to unionize. Another moves all ballot initiatives from June to November, giving unions a chance to mobilize a greater turnout on a proposal that weakens their political voice by limiting contributions. And, one bill requires state agencies to have labor agreements in place for construction projects. Under a typically Democratic governor, they might have been signed.

"No, slam dunks in this business and certainly no slam dunks with Governor Brown," said Sen. President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Brown has already shown streaks of conservatism; he rejected a bill mandating helmets for skiers and snowboarders under 18 and he refused to raise the fines for texting or calling on a cell phone while driving. The Oakland Democrat has also vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for farm workers to unionize.

Republicans are worried about the current slate of union bills and are hopeful Brown won't rubber stamp them.

"My hope is that he is more thoughtful than that. We've seen some evidence of that. I think he's got to be careful and take the middle road," said St. Senator Ted Gaines, R-Roseville.

The governor has already said California has too many laws on the books and told me last week why his veto pen has been active.

"We can make many of those bills better and we'll have the opportunity very soon to do exactly that," said Brown on Sept. 1.

In addition to the labor measures, Brown has until Oct. 9 to act on the hundreds of bills on his desk. His veto rate, the first time he was governor from 1975-1983, was less than 5 percent.

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