Game Changers for Working People

I’m not in the state capitol regularly.  But I spent Tuesday, April 24th there for three game changers for working people in California.

First of the morning, California Labor Federation-sponsored AB 3080 (Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher), which would ban forced arbitration agreements as a condition of employment, passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee.  The Assembly took the extraordinary stop of subpoenaing a witness to testify at today’s hearing, the first time a subpoena has been issued since 2001.

Tara Zoumer, who worked for a Bay Area start-up and was fired for refusing to sign an arbitration agreement, supports the bill but had been barred from speaking about her legal settlement because of a non-disclosure agreement. The subpoena gave her a legal mechanism to testify publicly despite the non-disclosure agreement.

Today, more often than not, workers are forced to sign arbitration agreements to get hired for a job.  These agreements take away a worker’s ability to fight against wage theft, sexual harassment, retaliation, and other workers’ rights violations before a judge, a jury, or even the Labor Commissioner.  Low-wage workers, women, and workers of color are all disadvantaged under an employer-controlled arbitration system.

Next up was a press event in support of SB 1402, State Senator Ricardo Lara’s bill to fight for justice for port truck drivers.  These drivers move goods for the largest and most profitable retailers in the world, yet because of their illegal misclassification as independent contractors, their forced leasing of trucks, and their piece rate pay minus gas, insurance, and other expenses, port truckers are modern-day sharecroppers.  SB 1402 would hold the retailers jointly liable for wage theft if they hire trucking companies that have final orders of judgment against them.

Finally, I testified in the Assembly Health Committee this afternoon on AB 3087, our sponsored bill to control health care costs.  Everyone agrees health care costs too damn much.  For union members, most of our wage increases go to pay for health insurance.  We continue to pay more and get less.  75 percent of health insurance premium dollar goes to pay for doctors and hospitals.  If we are going to control costs, we need to look at doctor and hospital costs.

AB 3087 would establish a commission that would set provider payment rates in the commercial insurance market, based on a number of factors, and keyed off Medicare rates.  Such a proposal would make health care costs more rational, more transparent, more reflective of what it costs to provide the medical service.

Restoring worker access to justice.  Fairness for some of the most exploited workers in our economy.  Lowering health care costs.  Whether you are a union member or not, the State Federation’s legislative actions affect the day-to-day lives of working people.  The work is fast-moving, sharp, highly charged, and deeply important.

It’s not often that you get to work on a game changer.  Working on three in one day is phenomenal.  Rest assured, working people are well represented in the halls of our state capitol.