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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recent Developments in California Labor Relations


In recent years, California has seen a number of high-profile work stoppages such as an extended dispute in Southern California supermarkets. Despite this, the state does not seem more dispute-prone than other states when California’s unionization rate is taken into account. About half of California’s unionized workers are in the public sector, where recent pay settlements seem to reflect the state’s fiscal crisis. In the private sector, NLRB charges tend to reflect California’s industrial composition and areas where organizing activity is occurring, such as building services. A special sample of state union contracts suggests that they have relatively long durations, often years or more. Only 13% have escalator clauses reflecting the relative low and stable inflation rate of recent years. Close to a third have two-tier pay provisions.

California unions generally opposed the 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis. When Davis was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, unions supported the new governor's ballot propositions, enabling the state to issue “Economic Recovery Bonds.” Various propositions scheduled for the November 2004 ballot will undoubtedly engender new union political activity, including a referendum on a new law mandating employer-provided health insurance. Among the sectors experiencing contract renewal negotiations in 2004 are entertainment, construction, hotels, and supermarkets in Northern California.

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