LOS ANGELES – In his annual State of the State address in January, Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, called on state legislators to enact to bring much-needed relief to California’s unemployed.

Building on last year’s passage of a labor-backed unemployment insurance bill (SB-40), Davis called for retroactive unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, adopted in that bill, to be extended to all those who were unemployed as of Sept. 11. This new bill would provide immediate assistance of over half a billion dollars retroactively to the state’s victims of Sept. 11, including airport, hotel and restaurant workers who were laid off by the thousands.

In addition, Davis proposed an economic stimulus package that appropriates $678.3 billion from lease revenue bonds to accelerate new public works projects to create more than 13,000 new jobs.

Together with SB-40, which Davis signed Oct. 1, 2001, these bills would represent the largest post-Sept. 11 unemployment package of any state. The proposed legislation would provide over $1 billion for increased UI benefits and jobs.

The California Labor Federation prioritized passage of SB-40, working with the bill’s author, Sen. Richard Alarcon, chair of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.

Unions raised the question, “How long would corporations stand for it, if California had a $6 billion fund designed to help them through economic downturns and the state ranked worst in the nation at paying out those benefits? That’s what’s happening to California workers!”

The success of SB-40 marked an historic increase in benefits for jobless Californians. All claims filed after Jan. 7 increased to 45 percent of an employee’s base earnings, with up to $330 for 26 weeks. Each year that amount will increase and by 2005 will be a weekly benefit of up to $450. The national AFL-CIO has called this bill a model for their efforts in other states.

Prior to this, California UI benefits had not increased since 1992. Jobless who qualified received an average of $155 a week, replacing just 23 percent of the average weekly wage – the worst replacement rate in the nation. Maximum benefits were capped at $230. Only Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Nebraska and South Dakota had lower benefit levels.

The new UI urgency measure, SB-2, introduced by Sen. Alarcon Jan. 14, will extend the SB-40 benefit payments retroactively to include not only those who have lost their jobs since Sept. 11 but all those who were actually unemployed on Sept. 11. The bill also calls for payments to be made in the most expeditious manner possible.

Alarcon told the media that the crisis necessitates this urgency response. “Fairness and equity require no less‚” he said.

The governor’s stimulus package for public works jobs, contained in SB-3, introduced by Sen. Alarcon Jan. 14, will speed up construction for facilities for higher education. Included in the package is $279 million for the University of California system, $191 million for California State University system and $170 million for community colleges.

The legislation for unemployed stands in stark contrast to President Bush’s budget proposals, which AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said “ignore the needs of working families today and threaten the future of critical programs on which working families depend.”

The California labor movement has prioritized the legislation for unemployed workers along with a workmen’s compensation bill passed by both houses of the legislature. After having vetoed the latter last year, the governor has promised to sign the bill, which will increase annual benefits to nearly half-million injured workers by about 2.5 billion when the measure is fully implemented in 2006.

While Democrats voted for the bill in both houses in one day, Republican legislators acted in sync with their GOP colleagues in Congress by bombastically opposing this real economic stimulus measure that would help working families.