Labor bills land on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk

Over the past 17 years of working for various McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California, Lizzet Aguilar said she’s faced many injustices, from sexual harassment to retaliation for beseeching safer working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So when California lawmakers approved a first-in-the-nation type of legislation — estimated to give more than half a million fast food workers more protections — Aguilar counted it as a victory. Her voice, she said, was finally heard.

The high-profile bill creates a new, state-run council to set industry standards, including wages and safety conditions, made up of employees, worker advocates, franchisees and franchisors. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law on Labor Day.

Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, said it “ensures that all voices at the table are heard and considered.”

For Aguilar, 41, it guarantees future generations of workers may have better wages and workplace protections.

“This bill means that many injustices will end. We will have better wages; there will be an end to wage theft; we will be able to have safety in the workplace,” Aguilar, now employed at a McDonald’s in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, said in Spanish. “This is a great victory.”

Though it garnered national attention, the fast food bill — dubbed the Fast Recovery Act — isn’t the only labor-related bill sent to the governor’s desk before session ended on the final day of August.

“A lot of things had to be ironed out within labor, but at the end of the day, we all found a way of being able to make sure what’s important to working people gets to the governor’s desk,” David Huerta, the SEIU California president said.

Here’s a look at just a few of those bills and the impact they could have on Southern California. (To note, none of these bills have been signed into law as of Friday, Sept. 2. They passed out of the legislature before the session ended and are awaiting a decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom.)

Employee leave

This bill, from Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Richmond, expands who an employee can take leave from work to care for to include a “designated person.”

A designated person could be a blood relative (important in multigenerational homes) or someone who the employee deems to be a chosen family member, such as an unmarried partner.

It doesn’t add additional or new leave time but allows an employee to use their time to care for someone they consider family, said Katie Duberg, the political organizing director for the California Work & Family Coalition.

“It’s really important that our leave laws reflect how California’s families really are,” Duberg said. “Our family definition under our leave law is based on this nuclear family model that doesn’t reflect California’s families.”

Duberg added that opening up the California Family Rights Act to include more people will also impact health care.

“We know that receiving care from a family member has important health outcomes. People who are seriously ill and receive care from a family member are less likely to be admitted to a nursing home,” she said.

Then there’s a bill from Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, adjusting the amount of wage payments workers on paid family leave or disability can receive. For those making less than $57,000 per year, they would be eligible to be paid 90% of their regular wages, as opposed to 70% as it is now, beginning in 2025, according to CalMatters.

Workplace safety postings

You might have noticed the wordy signs workplaces must post, informing workers of their rights and detailing citations and special orders — written in English.

But Assemblyman Matt Haney’s bill would require employee notifications be made available by Cal/OSHA in the top seven non-English languages in California as determined by a recent U.S. Census Bureau study: Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean, and Armenian as well as Punjabi, a common language among food processing workers in the state.

Other information in Cal/OSHA postings would need to include a contact for the division, where employees can find citations made against their employer, notification that an employer must communicate hazards in a language and manner in which employees can understand, and any safety or health violations Cal/OSHA found during investigations.

The one-page postings could be stapled together — allowing workers to flip through to find the language they understand.

Haney noted industries with the highest pandemic-related deaths employed non-native English speakers.

“We want to bridge the language gap for essential workers who showed up in person throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by making sure safety information is available in their language,” Haney said.

“Understanding confusing regulation that’s written only in English is pretty much denying (workers) the opportunity to make sure that the regulation is fully enforced,” said Andrea Zinder, president of the UFCW Local 324 in Buena Park. “We’ve got members whose primary language is Spanish or Vietnamese. While they might be able to converse in English, these are complicated requirements.”

“If the government is going to have a regulation, it should be accessible to the people it’s aimed at helping,” Zinder said.

CSU salary reforms

A bill from Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, would implement a nine-step merit salary system for California State University non-faculty staff employees, some of the lowest-paid workers in the system.

The proposal comes on the heels of a recent study that found CSU’s average pay was 12% below the market average and new hire salaries were close to those of senior staff.

The bill would implement a nine-step system over 15 years, including annual merit salary increases of 5% for the first five years, three separate merit 5% increases every two years, and a final increase three years later.

“It is long overdue that we finally fix the unfair salary structure that penalizes long-standing CSU employees and prevents them from earning the wages they rightfully deserve,” Leyva said in a statement.

Leyva said this system would “restore a more fair and equitable salary structure for CSU staff that ensures they are fairly compensated for the work they do for the university system and its students.”

“For too long, CSU support staff have been subjected to a broken salary system that has left them without the same wage opportunities as every other state employee,” said Jason Rabinowitz, the secretary-treasurer for the Teamsters Local 2010, which represents CSU skilled trade employees.

Affordable housing

Another bill from Wicks, the assemblywoman from Richmond, couples affordable housing with jobs.

The bill would allow for the building of affordable housing on underutilized commercial sites already zoned for office, parking, or retail use — meaning residential neighborhoods would not be impacted. An analysis found a potential 2 million units in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties could be built under this plan.

In order for these housing developments to be built, a prevailing wage would be required for all projects as well as health benefits for those with at least 50 units.

Huerta, the SEIU California president, said housing issues — from rising rents to the unaffordability of homeownership — across the board are a top concern workers face.

“The reality for working people who have come a long way, who make low-wage jobs into good-paying jobs, then have to face the insecurity of housing, creates anxiety for workers,” Huerta said. “Many times, they’re asking themselves why they are living in a state they cannot afford to live in.”

The bill stipulates 100% affordable housing would be allowed in areas not adjacent to industrial or environmentally sensitive land. Mixed-income housing, with at least 15% of units affordable to lower-income families, could be built along commercial corridors that could accommodate new transit and density, according to the bill’s fact sheet.

“As California’s affordable housing challenges continue to grow, AB 2011 is the first legislation in years to bring together affordable housing providers and labor that can make a real difference in closing our state’s serious shortage of affordable housing,” said Ray Pearl, the executive director of the California Housing Consortium.

Cannabis use

A bill from Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, makes it illegal for an employer to terminate, penalize or not hire a worker based on cannabis use while away from the workplace during non-work hours. Some exceptions remain, including for those needing federal clearance or in the building and construction trades.

“AB 2188 will not only have a significant impact on protecting workers from discrimination on the basis of their past cannabis use but will start to turn the tide toward more accurate, modern-day cannabis testing to detect recent use,” Jenny Phan, an employee at a MedMen Long Beach cannabis dispensary said.

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