By Sheri Williams
The California Labor Federation is fighting for a new law that would protect workers from being retaliated against during union drives by targeted store closures.
“Workers at chains like Starbucks, Peets, REI and more are advocating for safer workplaces, higher wages, and respect. Corporate bosses would rather close stores than address workers’ demands,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation. “This bill will protect workers from store closures and prevents chain employers from intimidating workers from taking action for better.”
Senate Bill 627, the “Displaced Worker Transfer Rights Act,” is authored by Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles). The legislation would discourage corporate chain employers from using store closures in a discriminatory or retaliatory manner by giving workers opportunities to work in other stores. The bill requires large chain businesses to notify workers 60 days in advance of closure of their workplace and grants workers transfer rights within the company.
There has been a historic surge in worker advocacy for their rights at businesses across the country. Workers are taking matters into their own hands and reporting violations of state and local laws. Starbucks, Trader Joes, Chipotle, and REI actions have captured headlines, but workers everywhere are demanding safer workplaces, higher wages, and respect, the Federation said in a statement.
“Not only do corporate chains use store closures to deter workers from advocating for their rights, but they disproportionately close stores in low-income and communities of color,” said Smallwood-Cuevas, the bill’s author. “Store closures are devastating to workers and communities. My bill will make sure workers have time to prepare for a store closure and can keep their jobs and transfer to another location.”
Rather than address the concerns of workers, corporate chains have closed locations across the country. In July, Starbucks announced that they were closing 16 stores nationally, including six in Los Angeles. The chain closed more stores in the fall with Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, warning in a Twitter video that there would be many more closures to come. Trader Joes and Chipotle, where workers are also advocating for their rights, have closed stores as well.
“Starbucks closed two stores across the street from ours and they told us it was because of safety concerns. But every store in downtown has the same safety related issues,” said Araseli Romero, a barista at a Starbucks in downtown Los Angeles where workers voted to form a union. “One of the reasons we’re organizing is to have a voice in how we improve working conditions at our stores, and that includes safety. We shouldn’t have to worry about losing our jobs when we speak out about problems in our stores.”
Store closures and the loss of jobs is devastating to workers, their families, and communities. Workers are left without a paycheck and they and their co-workers must scramble to find a new job with little warning. SB 627 will ensure workers’ lives aren’t upended when they lose their jobs because their employer closed the store where they work. It requires chain employers give advance notice of a store closure and gives workers the right to transfer to a location within 25 miles when a position becomes open. The bill would only apply to large corporate chains that have 100 locations nationally.