SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers gave a boost to a union looking to organize Tesla workers Friday as they approved a plan to spend $1.5 billion on environmental initiatives using money from the state’s recently renewed program that charges polluters to emit greenhouse gases.
The spending is outlined in two bills now heading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Much of the money will go toward pay for incentives and rebates to promote a cleaner vehicle fleet, including passenger cars, commercial trucks and port equipment.
Up to $140 million is earmarked for rebates for people who buy clean vehicles, but that money comes with a catch. Under a provision requested by a labor union, state officials will have to certify that participating automakers are “fair and responsible in the treatment of their workers.”
The provision comes as the United Auto Workers pursues an increasingly acrimonious drive to unionize thousands of workers who assemble high-end Tesla electric vehicles at a plant in Fremont. It directs the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency to come up with criteria for certifying that an automaker treats its employees fairly and responsibly.
The Legislature shouldn’t insert in a labor dispute that should be handled by the National Labor Relations Board, said Carl Guardino at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a business group that includes Tesla.
A number of lawmakers, including Democrats, agreed, arguing the last-minute language shouldn’t have been added to the bill. Still, both bills easily passed.
“We shouldn’t be holding our environmental projects hostage,” Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer said.
In a letter to key lawmakers this week, leaders of 18 unions, including the UAW, said the provision is a chance to leverage public money to protect workers and good middle-class jobs.
“Public investments should reflect our values — companies who benefit from public dollars should follow the law and respect workers’ rights,” they wrote.
California has set an ambitious goal to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. Lawmakers hope the clean-vehicle rebates will help close the price gap between traditional and electric vehicles. Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said California will never meet its pollution reduction goals without tackling vehicle pollution.
“Let’s send a message to Californians that help is on the way to clean up the air,” de Leons aid.
The money comes from California’s cap and trade program, which puts a limit on annual carbon emissions and auctions off permits to pollute under the cap. The program was slated to expire in 2020, but lawmakers this year gave it an extra decade of life.
Sixty percent of the money is directed by law to specific purposes, including the bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, public transit and housing projects. Lawmakers periodically dole out the other 40 percent.
In another bid to aid union workers, lawmakers said money for efficient port equipment can’t be used to buy automated equipment that would replace dock workers.
The $1.5 billion spending plan also includes money for cleaner agricultural equipment, school buses and diesel engines. Nearly $295 million would go to forest projects, including tree-planting in urban areas and fire prevention.
Another bill sent to Brown on Friday would give California voters more information about who is paying for campaign advertising. It requires ballot measure committees and independent expenditure committees to prominently display the names of their top three donors.
It also requires clearer disclosure of donors behind campaign committees that bill supporters say may have misleading names.
Supporters say the bill will help voters make better, more informed decisions.
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