Workers Win Historic Victory as Gov. Brown Signs Wage Theft Bill

Fair Day’s Pay Act will make the promise of California’s labor laws real; Community and labor advocates aim for California to lead the nation in enforcement


Workers across California won a landmark victory today when Governor Jerry Brown signed a sweeping bill that will crack down on the unscrupulous tactics employers have used to get away with stealing money from workers’ paychecks.

“With the Governor’s signature on SB 588 we are sending a message to employers around our state and around the country, California is setting the standard on protecting workers and hacking at the roots of income inequality,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, who authored the legislation. (D-Los Angeles). “Stealing the pay of workers is unconscionable. It takes food off their tables and makes it difficult – if not impossible – to provide for their families. A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is one of the cornerstones of our economy, and of our values as a nation.”

SB 588, the Fair Day’s Pay Act, will make it far more difficult for companies to get away with cheating workers. Under this legislation, companies who have previously evaded orders to pay legal wages can be required to post a bond, preventing them from simply ignoring court orders. They will also no longer be able to simply close up shop and reopen under a new name in order to avoid their debts to workers. The California Labor Commissioner will now be able to impose a lien on the business owner’s property.

Wage theft occurs when employers do one or more of the following:

· Pay workers for fewer hours than they worked

· Pay less than the minimum wage

· Fail to reimburse employees for expenses that should be covered

“Victims of wage theft are very often immigrants, women and people of color,” said David Huerta, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West. “SB 588 is about more than just economic rights, it’s about civil rights and immigrant rights. It took years of effort, but workers and community leaders came together and showed that we can win economic justice for the people of California.”

The coalition behind SB 588 includes the SEIU, the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), the Wage Justice Center and over 60 other organizations. The victory on wage theft in California comes as organizations around the nation have drawn increasing attention to economic justice issues like income inequality and raising the minimum wage. California is at the forefront of this movement, with cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and others passing higher minimum wage laws that include tough enforcement mechanisms.

According to research from the University of California at Los Angeles Labor Center, workers in Los Angeles alone lose $26.2 million a week to wage theft. Yet even when workers go through the difficult process of winning a wage theft claim, 87 percent are never repaid any of the money they are owed.

“When my employer paid me less than I was owed, I learned that few workers ever recover what they’re owed,” said Monica Uraña, a janitor from Los Angeles. “But in helping to pass this law, I learned that I wasn’t alone and that together, workers could fight back.”

“Not only is it almost impossible to live on less than the minimum wage in California, it is very difficult for honest employers to compete with companies that ignore the law,” said Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA). “This bill sends a strong message that California supports companies that play the rules.”

Cross post from SEIU-USWW