California Enacts New Laws to Protect Workers in Face of Trump Attacks

While the Trump Administration is hellbent on ripping worker protections to shreds at the federal level, the labor movement in California spent 2017 shoring up workers’ rights here and advancing a bold agenda to counter Trump’s rollbacks and make life better for millions of Californians.

On January 1, a host of new laws went into to effect to improve wages, working conditions and safety for California workers. Here’s some of the key new pro-worker laws unions fought to enact.

Minimum wage: As of January 1, California’s minimum wage for companies with more than 26 employees increased to $11 per hour, on its way to $15 in several years.

Health care: The ever-rising cost of prescription drugs is gouging seniors and patients. In 2017, California unions took on Big Pharma and won by pushing for the passage of SB 17, a new law that requires pharmaceutical companies to provide 60 days notice and a justification before raising a drug price more than 16% over two years. Transparency equals lower drug costs for everyone.

Freedom for workers to stand together in a union: SB 306 (Hertzberg) protects workers who are fired for being whistleblowers by allowing them to seek immediate reinstatement based on the chilling effect the firing would have on the entire workforce.

In addition, workers in a number of jobs received the right to organize a union, including research assistants on UC campuses, judicial council employees and part-time playground workers.

Wage Theft & Workers Rights:

Through the state budget 82 new positions and $11.4 million over the next two years were added to the Labor Commissioner’s enforcement budget to crack down on employers who exploit vulnerable workers in the underground economy. The beefed up budget also adds new tools for improving labor law enforcement and allows the Labor Commissioner to levy penalties on public agencies that knowingly hire unregistered contractors and subcontractors.

AB 1701 (Thurmond): ensures workers get paid by holding general contractors liable when a subcontractor fails to pay wages.

SB 550 (Pan): Creates incentives for school employers to settle legitimate wage claims by school employees rather than create needless delays.

AB 603 (Quirk Silva): Gives family childcare providers tools to ensure they are paid fairly such as access to direct deposit and notification of changes to subsidies.

Protect Immigrant Workers:

AB 450 (Chiu) requires that immigration enforcement agents have a judicial warrant before entering a business to detain workers and a subpoena before accessing worker records.

AB 699 (O’Donnell) protects students, parents, and school employees by creating standards and safety protocols to prevent immigration enforcement actions at school facilities.

AB 21 (Kalra) protects undocumented college students by restricting immigration enforcement on campus, providing healthcare access, and maintaining DACA financial aid.

SB 54 (de Leon) protects community safety by limiting local law enforcement from cooperating in immigration enforcement.


Unions were instrumental in enacting a trio of new laws to help with California’s ongoing housing crisis. The new laws provide a permanent funding source for affordable housing with a $75 fee on financial transactions on property such as refinances, authorize a housing bond for $4 billion to fund existing affordable housing programs and streamline certain housing developments with prevailing wage and skilled workforce requirements.

Expand Worker Health and Safety:

AB 55 (Thurmond) requires refineries to disclose contracts they claim are exempt from skilled and trained workforce requirements to state agencies.

SB 432 (Pan) requires county health officers to immediately notify emergency medical personnel if they have been exposed to a communicable disease while transporting a patient.

With these important new laws, California continues its reputation as the nation’s leader in advancing a pro-worker agenda, even as Trump and his corporate allies dismantle federal protections. It’s clear that Trump is going to continue his crusade to attack workers’ rights in 2018. We’re ready. Not only will California’s unions lead the charge to beat back these attacks, we’re poised to continue making huge gains to improve the lives of all workers in the Golden State.