Workers in California and their advocates scored four huge legislative victories last week! Over the course of several dizzying days, the California state legislature passed bills to raise the minimum wage, promote fairness in hiring, protect immigrant whistleblowers from retaliation, and guarantee the workplace rights of domestic workers.
Raising the State’s Minimum Wage
With a vote to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour in two steps by 2016, California becomes the first state to break the double-digit barrier, setting the bar for the rest of the states. Several other states are contemplating similar increases, putting pressure on Congress to raise the federal wage floor to $10.10 an hour, as proposed in the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.
“When California leads, America takes notice,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “We must pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act to follow California’s lead and ensure all American workers know the security, certainty, and dignity of a living wage.”
The California bill, AB 10, will benefit approximately 3.4 million low-paid workers in the state, generating over $3 billion in new economic growth, according to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute.
California’s minimum wage boost has strong support from Governor Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks. NELP was pleased to work with the California Labor Federation, which led the successful push for this historic wage increase. For more info, please visit www.raisetheminimumwage.org.
Promoting Fair Hiring for People with Criminal Records
California lawmakers also passed a bill to expand the state’s “ban the box” policy, removing questions about convictions from both state and local agency job applications and postponing such inquiries until later in the hiring process.
“A mistake from the past shouldn’t be a life sentence to joblessness,” said Michelle Rodriguez, a NELP staff attorney in Oakland who helped lead the reform effort. The policy helps mitigate the blanket exclusion that qualified applicants with conviction records often face when seeking work.
In 2010, California adopted an administrative policy to remove conviction questions from state agency job applications. The bill, AB 218, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, codifies and extends that policy to cover city and county employers as well. The bill has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee and has strong support from the California PICO, California Labor Federation, PolicyLink, All of Us or None, the California Violence Prevention Network, the National Council of La Raza, and numerous other allied organizations that are pushing to ensure that Governor Brown signs the bill.
Ten states have embraced ban-the-box policies, as nationwide momentum grows to reduce unfair barriers to employment for people with criminal records.
Protecting Immigrant Whistleblowers from Retaliation
California’s legislature passed new protections designed to stop unscrupulous employers from retaliating against immigrant workers who stand up for their rights.
“For too long, employers have used the threat of deportation to silence workers who are victims of stolen wages, unsafe working conditions, and abuse on the job,” said NELP staff attorney Eunice Cho, who documented nearly two dozen case studies of retaliation against immigrant workers in a recent report, Workers’ Rights on ICE.
NELP and the California Labor Federation co-sponsored a package of three bills to protect workers regardless of immigration status. AB 263 and SB 666, by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez and Senator Darrell Steinberg, prohibit employers from using immigration-related threats when workers speak out about unfair working conditions. AB 524, by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, makes clear that criminal extortion includes making immigration-related threats in order to get away with wage theft.
The bills have strong support from more than 50 organizations in the civil rights, immigrant rights, and labor communities. Governor Brown has until October 13th to sign them into law.
Securing a Bill of Rights for Domestic Workers
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the California Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, but workers and their allies persevered and have won passage of a new bill this year. The bill, AB 241, extends crucial overtime protections to domestic workers who have been excluded from this baseline right, guaranteeing overtime pay after 9 hours a day and 45 hours a week.
California will become the third state, after New York and Hawaii, to enact a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights when Governor Brown signs the bill into law.
Getting to this point has taken many years of organizing by groups representing domestic workers, immigrants, women, and labor. The bill is an important step toward finally recognizing that the domestic industry, like other industries, requires basic labor standards to ensure that workers are treated fairly and with dignity in the workplace.
Governor Brown’s sign-off on this important legislation will ensure that caregivers, nannies, and other domestic workers finally get the protection and respect they deserve.