Art Pulaski: Governor has opportunity to build on legacy of protecting workers with AB465

The clock is ticking on Governor Jerry Brown’s deadline to decide which bills from this legislative session he’ll sign into law. A bill promising to curtail a practice that’s both harmful to workers and disturbingly on the rise in workplaces across California is more than worthy of his signature. Mandatory arbitration waivers have been sneaked into countless piles of paperwork for workers to unknowingly sign their rights away on the job or when they’re first hired.

In a Sacramento Bee op-ed, California Labor Federation executive secretary-treasurer Art Pulaski describes how these waivers have been used to rob workers of their right to justice:

If you’ve ever signed a job application, you’re familiar with the overly technical fine print. What you may not know is an arbitration agreement hidden in the fine print nullifies your rights to seek justice in a court of law if your boss sexually harasses you, cheats you out of pay or commits a host of other abuses.

Sign the job application, lose your rights – most often without even knowing it.

In workplaces across California, this scheme is becoming more commonplace. Big corporations such as the one that owns Pizza Hut are including an agreement that, if signed, binds the employee to the employer’s rigged arbitration system for virtually all disputes. It’s called forced arbitration because workers don’t have a choice in the matter if they want a job.

It’s shocking but this practice is trending across the country:

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal found that the use of the agreements is skyrocketing. Companies, particularly those in low-wage industries, are using forced arbitration to insulate themselves from having to answer claims on wage theft, sexual harassment, worker safety and other abuses in a court or before state agencies.

This unfair system stacks the deck against workers. Fortunately AB 465 (Hernandez) seeks to protect workers from unknowingly signing away their rights:

The Legislature tackled this issue with Assembly Bill 465, which would prevent big corporations from forcing arbitration on working people. The bill is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

Despite false claims by corporate lobbyists, this bill doesn’t ban arbitration agreements, which are protected by federal law. Instead, the measure simply requires any waiver of basic labor protections must be knowing and voluntary. It also makes it illegal for employers to fire workers who choose not to sign away their rights. That’s common-sense reform that’s long overdue.

Gov. Jerry Brown has the opportunity to protect low-wage workers across the state by signing this bill into law. He has prioritized workers’ rights — especially protections for low-wage workers most vulnerable to exploitation — throughout his administration and he can build on that legacy by signing AB 465.

You should never be forced to sign away your rights as a condition of a job. Not only is that unfair, it’s un-American. 

AB 465 provides much needed protections for workers across California. It’s difficult to imagine any rationale for why these measures wouldn’t be signed into law. We urge Governor Brown to sign AB 465 into law and end the practice of workers being forced or tricked into signing away their rights.

Read the full op-ed here.