A powerful state lawmaker resigned from the California Legislature on Monday to become the next leader of the nation’s largest federation of labor unions.
Lorena Gonzalez said Monday she will resign on Wednesday to become the executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, an umbrella group made up of more than 1,200 unions representing 2.1 million workers in areas like manufacturing, retail, construction and health care.
The San Diego Democrat has been in the state Assembly since 2014, where she has pushed through laws guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers and making California the first state to require farmworkers be paid overtime after they’ve worked eight hours in one day — a law Gonzalez hailed as her biggest accomplishment.
But Gonzalez is best known nationally for authoring a law aimed at giving many independent contractors the same rights and benefits as full-time employees. Voters in 2020 agreed to exempt drivers from app-based ride-hailing and delivery companies following a $200 million campaign bankrolled by tech titans like Uber and Lyft.
Inside the walls of the state Capitol, Gonzalez is best known as the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee that acts as a gatekeeper for the state Assembly. Virtually every bill of consequence requires her committee’s approval to survive. The mysterious process culminates twice per year when Gonzalez announces the fates of hundreds of pieces of legislation in rapid succession, much like an auctioneer selling livestock.
Despite her high profile, Gonzalez’s political options had dwindled in recent years. She had planned to run for Secretary of State this year. But that plan was thwarted by a game of political musical chairs in 2020 that ended with Gov. Gavin Newsom appointing former Assemblywoman Shirley Weber as Secretary of State.
Running for re-election to her Assembly district would not have been easy. This year, an independent redistricting commission redrew the lines of her district so it includes another Democratic incumbent: Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, who is Shirley Weber’s daughter. It meant Gonzalez would either have to move to another district or face a tough campaign to keep her seat.
‘I’m grateful for the timing because I’d rather do this than be Secretary of State,” Gonzalez said Monday. “Redistricting was tough. I had tough decisions to make. It would have worked itself out. That’s part of life.”
At the California Labor Federation, Gonzalez will take over for Art Pulaski, who is expected to retire in July. Monday, Pulaski praised Gonzalez as a “passionate and committed leader” who “lives and breathes union values every day.”
Gonzalez said her decision to leave was influenced by her breast cancer diagnosis in July, followed by a double mastectomy in September.
“I think whenever you face your own mortality, in a way it makes you really look at what’s important in life and what you want to accomplish,” she said, adding that the thought of “being able to spend every single one of my days lifting up California workers” was too hard to pass up.
Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Democrat from Pasadena, will replace Gonzalez as chair of the Appropriations Committee. As for who will replace her in the Legislature, Gonzalez said she’s waiting to see what happens in the next day or two before making an endorsement.
“Obviously I’ll support the labor candidate,” she said. “And I hope to God it’s a Latina.”