Mixed fate for two CA LGBTQ workers rights bills

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday September 14, 2023
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Only one of two LGBTQ workers' rights bills by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks survived the 2023 legislative session. Photo: Courtesy the assemblymember's office
Only one of two LGBTQ workers' rights bills by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks survived the 2023 legislative session. Photo: Courtesy the assemblymember's office

One of two bills aimed at providing support for LGBTQ employees and other workers who need to take time off to care for a chosen family member passed out of the California Legislature. The legislation dealing with workers who have nontraditional family structures had faced stiff resistance during this year's legislative session.

The pair of bills were both authored by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) and had drawn strong support from LGBTQ rights advocates and groups promoting gender justice policies. Chosen family members of workers are people they are not legally related to but have close bonds with and care for when they are sick.

The 2023 legislative proposals built off of Wicks' AB 1041 that was passed by lawmakers last year and led to the state's family leave provisions covering workers with chosen family as of January 1. Many LGBTQ individuals consider their close friends or acquaintances to be their chosen family due to being estranged from their biological family members.

Another bill signed into law last year by Governor Gavin Newsom, and backed by LGBTQ family advocates, was Senate Bill 951 by Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) that boosts leave benefits for lower- and middle-income employees to cover more of their regular income while they take time off to care for loved ones.

This year Wicks had introduced AB 518 to give workers the right to receive Paid Family Leave wage replacement benefits while on leave to assist their chosen family. The bill had passed out of the Assembly in late May and had survived two votes in the Senate's Appropriations Committee over the last four weeks. Nonetheless, at the request of Durazo, it was sent to the inactive file on Wednesday.

Wicks' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Bay Area Reporter September 14 on why the bill was pulled from being voted on by the state Senate or if she intends to revive it in January at the start of the next legislative session. Durazo's office also has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The Assembly Thursday did adopt Wicks' AB 524 that would make it unlawful for employers to refuse to hire, fire, demote, or take other adverse employment action against workers because of their responsibilities to their biological or chosen family members. It passed by a 49-17 vote with 14 abstentions, as it required another vote by the lower chamber after the Senate passed an amended version of the bill September 12 by a 26-8 vote with six abstentions.

It had faced fierce opposition from business interests, with the California Chamber of Commerce naming it one of its 2023 "job killer" bills it was tracking this year.

It had argued that AB 524 would expose employers to potentially costly litigation due to the creation of "an extremely broad, protected class" under the Fair Employment and Housing Act by defining employees with "family caregiver status" to include "any employee who provides direct care to specified family members, but also to any person of their choosing, and the bill would create a de facto accommodation requirement that will burden small businesses."

Equal Rights Advocates had supported both of Wick's bills this year. Jessica Stender, the organization's policy director and deputy legal director, expressed confidence to the B.A.R. in March of seeing the legislation be adopted by the Legislature because of the support for last year's bills.

"I think the Legislature showed the need and an understanding of having a more expansive definition for family to take into account workers who don't have close family or family that is not related by blood," said Stender, a straight ally, at the time.

As of Thursday afternoon, the advocacy group had yet to comment to the B.A.R. about the suspension of AB 518.

In a tweet on X, formerly Twitter, after AB 524 had passed out of the Senate Tuesday, the advocacy group noted it "was a BIG PUSH in Sacramento today, and we're so grateful to the lawmakers who voted to protect employees from family caregiver discrimination!"

Newsom has until October 14 to either sign AB 524 into law or veto it.

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