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Lawmakers Approve “Upward Mobility” Bill, Proposing More Slots for Blacks on State Boards, Commissions

Edward Henderson, California Black Media 

On Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, Assemblymember Chris Holden’s (D-Pasadena) ‘Upward Mobility Bill’ (AB 105) passed the California State Senate with a 29-to-8 vote.

The legislation promotes more opportunities for people of color in California’s civil services system and requires diversity on state boards and commissions. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk to either be signed into law or to be vetoed. 

“Upward mobility is integral to achieving racial justice, and we should be setting the example,” said Holden. “The existing systems in place at our own state agencies fail to create inclusive workplace environments and hinder qualified individuals to move up within their department simply based on the color of their skin. Today, the Legislature took a bold step to fix the problem.”

Specifically, AB 105 would require the California State Personnel Board (SPB) to establish a process that includes best practices and emphasizes diversity in the announcement, design, and administration of exams for potential state employees. 

The bill also directs the Department of Human Resources (CalHR) to develop model upward mobility goals to include race, gender, and LGBTQ identity as factors to the extent permissible under state and federal equal protection laws.

Additionally, AB 105 calls for state agencies to collect and report demographic data using more nuanced categories of Californians of African descent, similar to the data collected for Californians of Asian descent.  This data will be critical in accurately reporting who among Californians of African descent is experiencing barriers to upward mobility. Last year, Gov. Newsom signed AB 3121 into law, which was authored by former Assemblymember, Dr. Shirley Weber, who is now Secretary of State. That bill established a task force to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans.  AB 105 would give the task force more accurate data to utilize in its deliberations.

CALHR data shows that the majority of non-white civil service personnel are paid a salary in the “$40,000 and below” range. When the salary range increases, the percentage of non-White civil servants working in upper-level or management positions decreases. The opposite is true for White civil servants who predominate in management and upper-level civil service positions. 

The Sacramento Bee has published a series of letters written on behalf of Black employees working at state agencies such as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation with detailed accounts of how Black employees are passed up for promotions over White employees. The problem, however, is not limited to upward mobility. In early November, three Black employees at the California Office of Publishing found racial slurs written on cards at their desk.

“We already mandated the private sector to do their part. It’s time for the state to step up and do theirs,” said Holden.

Newsom has until Oct. 10, 2021 to sign the legislation.

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