California Rolls Out New Workers’ Rights for a New Year

The new year always brings plenty of political promises and plans, but here’s what state is actually doing for its workforce in 2023
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A slew of new labor laws are going into effect in 2023, intended to bring Californians closer to a living wage while improving workplace conditions for both blue collar and white collar workers, as well as everyone in between, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The year kicked off with a minimum wage boost to $15.50 per hour for employees at businesses big and small (25 or fewer) on January 1. This 50-cent jump stemmed from a 2016 law that mandated adjustments based on inflation. The new wage will bring raises to an estimated 3.2 million Californians—18.9 percent of the total workforce.

However, Mariko Yoshihara, legislative counsel and policy director for the California Employment Lawyers Association, insists that though lawmakers have been “incredibly productive,” there is “still a lot more work to do.”

Last year proved wearying for many worker advocates, as they battled back and forth with the state’s most prominent industries and still saw many of their efforts fail, though they hope to revisit those dashed proposals in 2023.

For example, one proposition that would mandate industrywide wage and workplace conditions for fast-food restaurants is being held hostage, and the California Chamber of Commerce gloated that it had killed 17 of 19 bills they deemed “job killers” due to “a lack of appreciation of the economic realities and regulatory challenges employers—and especially small business employers—face as they continue to emerge from the impacts of the pandemic,” the Times reports.

Still, despite the efforts of the chamber and other pro-boss entities, some laws to ease the lives of employees did manage to slip through. Such as:

Pay Equity

Senate Bill 1162, authored by state Sen. Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara),forbids disparities in pay based on race, religion, or any beliefs by requiring employers with 15 or more workers to report their salary ranges to those workers and to include those salaries on job postings.

Failure to comply can result in a $10,000 fine from the California Labor Commissioner.

This bill, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in the presence of several members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, is a “big moment for California workers, especially women and people of color who have long been impacted by systemic inequities that have left them earning far less than their colleagues,” Limón says.

In December, only 44 percent of California businesses included salaries in their job postings.

Family and Medical Leave (FMLA)

For more than two decades, Californians have funded the state’s family leave programs through their paychecks but faced the reality of not being able to take off work themselves when the time came because that program offered only a 55 percent wage replacement for a period of up to six weeks.

Katherine Wutchiett, an attorney at Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco, tells the Times that low-wage workers under the previous system had to “keep working against their doctor’s orders, to work up until the day they go into labor, to leave ill family members without adequate care, and to return to work right after having a child.”

Middle- and high-wage earners in the state, meanwhile accessed the program four times more than those low-wage workers, according to the California Budget and Policy Center.

Senate Bill 951, written by L.A. Democrat, state Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), extends a COVID-era family and medical leave program that paid between 60 and 70 percent of a worker’s salary for a period of eight weeks. It was set to expire this month, but will now live on for two more years.

Farmworkers

Although there are more than 400,000 farmworkers in the Golden State, harvesting $51 billion in crops each year, only two percent belong to a union. Assembly Bill 2183, authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), is aimed at making it easier for the state’s agriculture workers to unionize, despite the fact that many are undocumented and speak little English, leaving them with limited awareness of their rights.

The bill allows union representatives to help workers fill out ballots in union elections. Newsom nearly vetoed the bill for a lack of “critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election,” but a 24-day, 335-mile march by farmworkers in August built up enough pressure to get him to sign.

Fast Food

With nearly 400,000 Californians laboring in fast food industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Assembly Bill 257 will create a ten-member Fast Food Council to regulate hours, wages, and working conditions across chains that have 100 or more outlets nationwide. This would also include a body with worker delegates, industry representatives, and state officials.

However, the bill faces opposition from industry giants such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, In-N-Out Burger, and, of course, Starbucks. The corporations have somehow collected one million signatures for a 2024 referendum to ultimately overturn the measure and delay its implementation.

Construction

Two new laws regulating pay for construction workers, Senate Bill 6 and Assembly Bill 2011, require higher wages on affordable housing projects. These were previously zoned as commercial projects, for which companies were allowed to pay workers less.

Abortion

With the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last year, Senate Bill 1375, written by Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), makes it easier for experienced nurse practitioners to qualify for and to perform abortions independently of a physician.

Weed

Assembly Bill 2188, by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Union City), makes it illegal for most employers to punish workers for enjoying marijuana in their free time. The bill “prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on: (1) the employee’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace; and (2) a drug screening test that has found the person to have nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids.”

So party on, California.


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