Silver Taube: California workers are gaining new rights next year
Fast-food workers protesting in August 2021 at a Burger King on Almaden Road in San Jose. File photo.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed bills that will give California workers important new rights in 2024.

SB 616 will increase the number of paid sick days from three days to five effective Jan. 1, 2024. Access to paid sick days is crucial for the health and well-being of California working families.

AB 1228 will raise the minimum wage for most fast-food workers to $20 an hour in April. It will also create a council with workers, employers, advocates and the government to address working conditions in the industry. Fast-food workers will finally have a seat at the table.

SB 497, the Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act, will make it easier to prove retaliation by creating a rebuttable presumption that retaliation occurred if the adverse action such as firing or demotion took place within 90 days of the protected activity. It also ensures that prevailing whistleblowers receive $10,000, which currently goes to the state. The California Coalition for Worker Power and Equal Rights Advocates sponsored the bill.

This bill is especially important to me, since it is a bill I devised and proposed out of concerns about the difficulty of proving retaliation and the pervasive fear of retaliation that prevents workers I speak with daily from exercising their rights.

A survey of 1,000 California workers found the threat of retaliation stopped 40% of workers from seeking a remedy for unlawful conditions. An even greater share of Black and Latinx workers—55% and 46%, respectively—say the risks of speaking out are too high, making retaliation a critical equity issue.

SB  553, effective July 1, 2024, will help to combat the epidemic of workplace violence by requiring California employers to take steps to prevent and respond to it.

The law requires employers to develop workplace violence prevention plans as part of their injury and illness prevention programs with specific components and procedures. It also requires employers to record violent workplace incidents or threats in a violent incident log, provide effective training to all employees and maintain records related to the workplace violence prevention plan.

The need for this bill was evident from the escalating violence that workers in service industries face. In a statement, the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council said that most of its members have been victims of workplace violence or the threat of it.

“Members have been robbed at gunpoint; they’ve been attacked physically, some to the point of needing to be hospitalized; they’ve been spat upon by people infected with COVID-19; they are routinely threatened with violence; and at some stores, members have even been murdered while performing their jobs,” the union said.

John Frahm, acting president of the UFCW Local 5, said the bill will have an “extraordinary impact” on workers’ lives.

Newsom also signed SB 376, an important bill providing human trafficking victims the right to an advocate. Perla Flores, senior division director at Community Solutions in Morgan Hill, proposed and devised the bill. It was sponsored by Community Solutions and CAST LA.

AB 800 addresses the uptick in child labor law violations. It creates a Workplace Readiness Week at all public high schools to teach students about their workplace rights and how to join or start a union.

AB 636 requires a comprehensive, easily understandable California legal rights disclosure notice of key state and federal rights for H-2A visa farmworkers in Spanish and English, if requested. H2A agricultural workers are some of the most exploited workers in the agricultural industry, so this bill is critical to them.

Newsom vetoed four bills that would have provided more rights to workers. AB 524, the Family Caregiver Anti-Discrimination Act, would have made caregiving a protected class.

Another bill vetoed by the governor is AB 575, which would have made changes in the Paid Family Leave (PFL) law.

PFL provides workers with partial wage-replacement when they take time away from work to care for family or to bond with a new child. It is paid entirely by employees who make contributions to the PFL program out of every paycheck. But right now, only one family member can receive benefits to care for a seriously ill family member at a time.

AB 575 would have deleted the rule that only one family caregiver at a time can receive PFL. The bill would also have made PFL available for child bonding when a guardian newly assumes responsibility for an adopted or fostered child in loco parentis. Finally, the bill would have removed the provision of PFL that allows employers to require employees to use two weeks of accrued vacation before they can receive PFL, a change supported by 88% of small business owners surveyed by Small Business Majority in a recent poll.

Newsom also vetoed a bill that would have provided unemployment benefits to striking workers. SB 799, which would have paid striking workers state unemployment benefits after two weeks. Only New York and New Jersey provide unemployment benefits to striking workers.

SB 686, also vetoed by Newsom, would have extended workplace safety protections to domestic workers, such as housekeepers and nannies. The bill would have removed an exemption of domestic workers from Cal/OSHA’s workplace health and safety rules. In 2020, Newsom vetoed a similar measure. Since then a statewide advisory committee has created voluntary work safety standards and recommended that domestic workers be included in Cal/OSHA.

The newly-approved bills, effective next year, are creating important workplace rights that will improve conditions for many California workers.

San José Spotlight columnist Ruth Silver Taube is supervising attorney of the Workers’ Rights Clinic at the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center, supervising attorney of the Santa Clara County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement Legal Advice Line and a member of Santa Clara County’s Fair Workplace Collaborative. Her columns appear every second Thursday of the month. Contact her at [email protected].

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