Sacramento Valley Union Labor Bulletin

Owned and Published by the Sacramento Central Labor Council and the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building & Construction Trades Council, official councils of the AFL-CIO

LABOR BULLETINSLIDER

Labor activists fight against wage theft

By Sheri Williams

Hundreds of workers and advocates from around California converged at the Capitol in late May, calling for California to adopt a Justice for All Workers Agenda.

Specifically, they are calling on California elected leaders to fight back against corporate interests’ November ballot initiative to repeal the Private Attorneys’ General Act (PAGA), which would effectively block workers’ access to justice through the courts and hamper state agencies’ enforcement of labor laws.

Although PAGA, as the law is known, receives little attention, labor advocates say it is a crucial tool for helping workers fight wage theft at a time when state investigators can’t handle every complaint.

The Private Attorneys General Act allows private attorneys to basically sue on behalf of the state. In these cases, a worker who has suffered damages can act as the plaintiff, rather than the state. But if the worker wins the private lawsuit, the result functions just like a lawsuit brought by the state, covering all employees.

Business interests are attempting to repeal PAGA in a November ballot initiative.

But workers are fighting to keep it. The event at the Capitol was sponsored by the California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP), a coalition of worker centers, unions, and worker advocacy organizations dedicated to ensuring that every worker in California has the power to come together and improve their work conditions and their communities.

A recent study by the UCLA Labor Center found that, “PAGA amplifies the state’s strategic enforcement efforts. Between 2018 and 2021, worker whistleblowers have filed more than 4,208 PAGA notices.” Those notices included cases in industries including agriculture, auto repair, car wash, garment, janitorial, restaurant, retail, and warehouse.

“This is nearly three times the number of inspections the Bureau of Field Enforcement was able to conduct during the same time period,” the report said.

According to the report, “While it has become increasingly unpopular to elevate profit over people, big business has resorted to disguising their regressive blows as somehow benefiting workers, rather than their financial bottom line. Case in point: the corporate machine misleading the public about a voter initiative that would eviscerate the Private Attorneys General Act, one of the most powerful tools that workers in California have to enforce basic labor standards. PAGA empowers workers to hold scofflaw employers accountable when they violate important worker protections—like the right to overtime, or the right to paid sick leave.”

Assemblymembers Liz Ortega and Ash Kalra have been leading the legislative fight to end wage theft, and joined the workers at the Capitol. Kalra is carrying a bill that would allow courts to order companies that break labor laws to immediately come into compliance, so scofflaws can’t continue to break the law. The bill, AB 2288, strengthens PAGA by giving courts an additional tool to protect workers from further violations.

Another bill on the workers’ agenda is SB 1030, which would empower workers to know their rights by strengthening state-community partnerships that have helped millions of workers learn about and use laws protecting their workplace rights and health and safety.