Lodi News-Sentinel

Corporatio­ns turn to ballot to combat California’s policies

- Taryn Luna

SACRAMENTO — Twice in the last two weeks, major corporatio­ns have scored wins in their fights against progressiv­e policies approved by Democrats at the California Capitol.

First, the Secretary of State announced that fast-food companies had collected enough signatures to force a referendum on a state law meant to boost wages for restaurant workers. Last week, oil companies’ effort to overturn an environmen­tal safety law that would ban new drilling projects near homes and schools similarly qualified for the ballot.

Both laws are now on hold until voters decide in November 2024 whether to uphold them.

That added to frustratio­ns among California’s labor unions, environmen­talists and good government groups, who alleged corporatio­ns are abusing the direct democracy process and intentiona­lly misleading voters who signed petitions calling for the referendum­s.

“This is about corporatio­ns not being able to win in the Legislatur­e and trying to hoodwink voters into taking away the progress that California­ns have made,” said Tia Orr, executive director of the Service Employees Internatio­nal Union of


The powerful labor union, which represents 700,000 workers and 17 local unions, is leading a coalition considerin­g reforms to the referendum process. Any proposal to change California’s century-old system of direct democracy is likely to spark pushback from businesses that are increasing­ly using it as a check on the Democratic Legislatur­e.

Jennifer Barrera, president and chief executive of the California Chamber of Commerce, said companies are turning to the referendum process, in part, in response to the Legislatur­e becoming a “super super majority by one party.”

The California Independen­t Petroleum Associatio­n declined a request for an interview.

The organizati­on and oil companies spent at least $20 million to qualify the referendum on the law requiring a buffer zone around new oil and gas wells, a marquee policy in a package of climate change bills that Gov. Gavin Newsom pushed through the Legislatur­e in the final days of the legislativ­e session in August.

Newsom ripped the industry after the referendum qualified, his latest rhetorical attack in an ongoing assault on Big Oil.

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