LABOR + EMPLOYMENT
A Voice for Low-Wage Workers in the State Capitol
CRLAF’s Labor and Employment Project carries out policy-oriented research and farmworker field surveys, conducts legislative and administrative advocacy in the wage and hour, unemployment insurance, and farmworker law areas, both at state and federal levels, and provides training, technical assistance and advocacy support to California legal services programs.
Each year, the Project tracks approximately 60 state and federal bills, and supports or sponsors various bills to expand labor law protections for agricultural and other rural, low-wage workers, and opposes legislation that threaten such protections.
For several years, the Project has and continues to work in close collaboration with California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. (CRLA) to monitor H-2A job orders; a high percentage of which are found to contain false or misleading information that violates California law. CRLAF then follows up with all relevant governmental agencies to ensure employers’ greater compliance and stricter regulation of job orders.
The Project’s chief objectives are:
To expand state labor laws affecting the rights of farmworkers and other low-wage workers.
To improve and reform state labor law enforcement efforts, particularly in the underground economy.
To take a leadership role in opposing legislative or regulatory efforts to weaken new or existing labor rights that impact low-wage workers, especially farmworkers and their families.
To undertake related legal and public policy research, education and media efforts.
To initiate training of advocates, attorneys and agency staff about CRLAF-sponsored labor laws.
To monitor guest worker admissions into California under the federal H-2A program.
To participate in national advocacy efforts around guest worker programs and farmworker legalization.
CRLAF’s Recently Sponsored and Supported Labor + Employment Legislation
AB 636 (Kalra): CRLAF sponsored this landmark legislation, enacting greater language access and labor rights education within the agricultural workforce and among H-2A employees. This bill mandates that the Labor Commissioner compile into one single written notice key information on roughly two dozen state laws and regulatory protections employers are required to provide H-2A workers in Spanish on their first day of employment. CRLAF also sponsored the previous version of this bill, AB 857 (Kalra). [Chaptered Bill Text.]
AB 638 (Caballero): sponsored by CRLAF and partners Central American Resource Center and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, this bill requires that all persons engaged in providing advice, counsel, and direct representation have the proper legal training and accountability, to ensure that immigrants receive high-quality legal assistance and are not put at risk of receiving false or misleading information, removal from the United States, or being separated from their families. [Chaptered Bill Text.]
SB 295 (Monning): CRLAF sponsored this bill which creates greater transparency in the sexual harassment prevention training required for farmworkers by SB 1087 (Monning, 2014) and addresses recent concerns about non-compliance by some Farm Labor Contractor (FLC)s. The legislation requires that FLCs annually disclose materials utilized to train workers in sexual harassment prevention, and report to the Labor Commissioner the total number of farmworkers they trained in the previous calendar year. The Labor Commissioner then aggregates each year’s reported numbers and publishes the statewide total to the Commissioner's website. [Chaptered Bill Text.]
AB 970 (Nazarian): CRLAF sponsored this bill which closed gaps in the Labor Commissioner’s legal authority that precluded the Commissioner from issuing citations to employers for two increasingly common underground economy wage theft violations: illegal deductions made from workers’ wages for tools or equipment, and payment of sub-minimum wages below levels mandated by applicable local ‘living wage’ laws. AB 970 increased the likelihood that more workers victimized by unscrupulous employers will recover their stolen wages as a result of a Labor Commissioner workforce-wide investigation and citation process for these two violations, and simultaneously reduces state costs associated with remedying these violations through individual Berman hearings or civil lawsuits. [Chaptered Bill Text. Legislative History.]
AB 1723 (Nazarian): requires the Labor Commissioner, when citing for a minimum wage violation, to also determine whether workers are owed ‘waiting time’ penalties for an employer’s failure to pay all wages when due. The bill has major financial implications for farmworkers and other low-wage workers whose unpaid minimum wages are often far less than any applicable ‘waiting time’ penalties. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
SB 1087 (Monning): CRLAF sponsored this bill in response to farmworker lawsuits and administrative claims revealing shocking instances of sexual harassment, including rape, against undocumented farmworker women, that drew significant media attention. (See ‘Rape In the Fields’ (2013) NPR/Frontline/Center for Investigative Reporting). This legislation attacks a widespread culture of sexual harassment of farmworker women by FLCs and their supervisors through a combination of mandatory annual sexual harassment prevention training and testing of licensees; annual training of their supervisors; and training of farmworkers in how to prevent, identify and report sexual harassment. The bill also makes more than a dozen other needed changes to the state Farm Labor Contractor Act, including authorizing the Labor Commissioner to take adverse license actions against sexual predators. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
AB 1897 (Hernández): sponsored by the state Labor Federation and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. CRLAF was a significant partner in testimony before key committees, and lobbying for passage and the bill’s signature. AB 1897 makes most California employers, including growers, jointly and severally liable for their Labor Contractors’ wage theft and worker’s compensation violations for the first time under California law. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
SB 168 (Monning): dramatically revised successorship liability law to strengthen legal protections for farmworkers against FLCs’ wage theft, which is often committed as part of a fraudulent shutdown of their contracting business. [Chaptered Bill Text and complete Legislative History.]
AB 442 (Nazarian): requires the Labor Commissioner, when issuing a citation for a minimum wage violation, to also recover liquidated damages for victimized workers in an amount equal to the total amount of their unpaid minimum wages. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
SB 435 (Padilla): expands protections for California workers in five outside industries who request, but are denied, heat stress-related cool down ‘recovery periods,’ treated the same way as daily rest periods under the Labor Code: employers in the five covered outside industries are prohibited from requiring workers to perform any work during any heat stress recovery period and, if the employer failed to provide such a recovery period upon a worker’s request, they must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at their regular rate of compensation for each work day that a recovery period was not provided. Workers can pursue these claims either in court or an administrative wage claim hearing. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
SB 390 (Wright): created new Labor Code criminal penalties on employers who deduct, and then steal, workers’ paycheck withholdings, and also created for the first time in California law a state cause of action (under the PAGA, discussed below) to attack this kind of unscrupulous employer conduct. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
AB 1675 (Bonilla): imposes stiff civil penalties on persons who operate as a FLC without first securing an FLC license. Farmworkers aggrieved by actions of an unlicensed FLC can collect penalties in a PAGA civil lawsuit, provided the State of California does not pursue the violation itself. [Chaptered Bill Text.]
AB 2674 (Swanson): requires employers, for the first time under California law, to provide current and former employees, or their representatives, with a copy of their employment-related personnel records, which is often a vital first step in determining the merits of a worker’s claim of retaliation. This bill was vetoed once before, and represents a victory for worker advocates ‘staying the course’ to get relief in this important area. [Chaptered Bill Text.]
SB 1255 (Wright): resolved long standing conflicts over whether a worker “suffers injury” when an employer fails to provide them with a complete and accurate itemized pay statement, as required by state law. CRLAF negotiated a compromise with trial lawyers, unions, and business interests which provides the courts with a better roadmap in how to interpret employer violations of these critical worker protections in the future. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
AB 243 (Alejo): enacted over the strong opposition of California agriculture, requires FLCs to provide their farmworker employees with an itemized wage statement which discloses all of the names and addresses of every entity (i.e., growers or other FLCs) to whom the farmworker was supplied during the pay period. [Chaptered Bill Text.]
AB 240 (Rodriguez): requires the Labor Commissioner to allow workers not paid the minimum wage to recover minimum wage liquidated damages in a Berman administrative wage claim hearing, which their parallels rights if the claim is pursued in a civil action. This is a critical advance for low-wage workers whose only avenue to redress wage theft is a Berman hearing (because their individual wage claim is too small to be taken by a private attorney or a legal services law firm). [Chaptered Bill Text.]
AB 469 (Swanson): enacted an omnibus wage theft statute with many new Labor Code protections aimed particularly at vulnerable low-wage immigrant workers in the underground economy; CRLAF wrote the first draft and co-sponsored the bill with the California Labor Federation, and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). [Chaptered Bill Text.]
CRLAF sponsored the Labor Code's Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), which landmark legislation created a private right of action to enforce California labor law provisions previously reserved for enforcement solely by the state. CRLAF wrote the first draft and co-sponsored the original bill (SB 796) with the California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO). Employers immediately made strenuous efforts to completely repeal PAGA once it took effect. This effort fueled a budget stalemate that was only resolved after extensive negotiations that led to the enactment of a subsequent bill (SB 1809) which preserved the bulk of PAGA, while requiring administrative exhaustion before a right to sue would vest. [Chaptered Bill Text of SB 796. Complete Legislative History of SB 796. Chaptered Bill Text of SB 1809. Complete Legislative History of SB 1809.]
The Financially Responsible Labor Contractor Act, SB 179 (Alarcon): sponsored by CRLAF, who also wrote the first draft, is a groundbreaking statute, opposed by dozens of employer groups in the Legislature, making entities liable when they knowingly entered into a financially insufficient contract for labor or services in five underground economy industries. A prior version was vetoed. [Chaptered Bill Text. Complete Legislative History.]
The project’s non-lobbying activities are, and have been for many years, generously supported by the Rosenberg Foundation.