National Consumers League

A good day for workers rights in California


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By Michell K. McIntyre, NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

October 9 was not only a good day in California history, but also a good day in labor history, for Governor Jerry Brown signed some great workers’ rights bills into law. He signed the Wage Theft Prevention Act (AB 469), the Employee Classification Act (SB 459), a farm workers’ right bill (AB 243) and many others. These laws represent huge steps forward in the battle to protect workers’ rights in a difficult political climate.

While the majority in House of Representatives is looking to erode workers’ rights in favor of corporate interests, often under the mantle of ending “job killing regulations,” it's encouraging to see three workers’ rights bills become law in a state that, in 2009, was the world’s eighth largest economy.

These laws strive to prevent wage theft, strengthen existing laws protecting workers’ rights and increase penalties on employers caught cheating their employees. Some of the main points of each of the new laws:

The Wage Theft Prevention Act (AB 469):

  • Employers are to provide workers, at the time they’re hired, a written disclosure of their basic terms of employment - the pay rate, the pay day & the name and address of the legal employer
  • Strengthens misdemeanor criminal penalties for employers who willfully fail to pay wages due in 90 days after final judgment
  • Allows a worker to recover attorney’s fees to enforce a court judgment for unpaid wages

The Employee Classification Act (SB 459):

  • Makes it unlawful for any person or employer to engage in willful employee misclassification – classifying an employee as an independent contractor rather than an employee
  • Makes it unlawful to charge any fees or make any deductions in a worker’s paycheck for expenses such as space rental, services, repairs, goods or materials, where such deductions would have been unlawful had the worker been classified as an employee
  • Increases penalties that can be assessed against any employer for willful employee misclassification.
  • Requires employers who have been found to have committed employee misclassification to display a notice to its employees and the general public on their website and/or each location where it occurred

One of many farm workers’ rights bills signed into law was Assembly Bill 243 that requires farm labor contractors to disclose on workers’ pay stubs the name and address of the legal entity that secured the farm labor contractor’s services. Many farm workers do not know who their legal employer is nor whom they should be addressing with employment and payment issues.

These three laws are good practical examples of what can happen on a state level since the federal government is slower to move and faces larger lobbying efforts by big business and industry. Other state governments should take notice of these workers’ rights victories and try passing similar laws in their states.