Download the California Labor Federation’s 2018 Policy Statements here.
THE GROWING gap between the rich and poor is not an accident; it is the direct result of corporate and public policies to decrease labor cost and increase profits for shareholders. Corporations are creating low-wage jobs with no benefits and few opportunities for advancement.
This model of business erodes the traditional employment relationship and the social compact. Workers are no longer able to rely on a decent wage, employer-provided health care, or the promise of a dignified retirement after a lifetime of work. For many workers, there is no expectation of permanence as workers in the contingent economy can easily be disposed of and replaced. This trend toward a contingent economy is directly connected to the decline in union density and the vanishing middle class.
A failure to address the proliferation of contingent work will result in more than just the creation of a permanent underclass; it will make rebuilding a middle class impossible. The creation of traditional jobs alone will not rebuild our middle class either. We need to invest in good jobs that fuel the growth of our economy and rebuild the middle class, closing the huge gap between the rich and the rest of us.
The Federation supports policies that increase wages and provide benefits, overtime, paid sick leave, and meal and rest breaks, especially in historically under-valued and low-wage occupations, such as home care predominately staffed by women of color, and other low-wage occupations. We also support an end to the erosion of the employment relationship that increases profits at the expense of workers and the middle class. We know that unions and jobs with good wages, benefits, and job security are what will rebuild our middle class and our economy. The bottom line is simple: all workers deserve to earn a fair wage for a hard day’s work.
In 2016, Governor Brown signed into law a historic state minimum wage that will reach $15 in 2020 and is indexed to increase over time. In cities across the nation, millions of workers and advocates have rallied, marched, struck, and worked to win $15 minimum wages in cities and states and at the same time have built a grassroots movement. The national movement for a $15 minimum wage laid the foundation for California to lead the way by enacting the law for all workers in the state, with no tip credit, health care credit, or other loophole.
The Federation supports strong oversight over employers that can pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. Programs designed to increase workforce participation among the developmentally disabled through the payment of sub-minimum wages must be carefully constructed, reviewed, approved, and monitored to both ensure the protection of the workers and to mitigate the downward pressure on wages for other workers.
Living Wage Ordinances
The Federation strongly supports local living wage ordinances. These laws require employers who receive funds, contracts, or tax breaks from the government to provide decent pay and benefits to their employees. More than a decade after the first living wage ordinance was passed in California, the evidence suggests that these laws substantially raise pay and benefits, reduce pay inequality, and improve services, all at minimal costs.
The Federation will continue to support living wage laws at the municipal, county, regional, state, and national levels. The Federation supports indexing living wage laws to inflation to keep up with increases in the cost of living. We also support the efforts of local unions to use living wages and other area wage standards as bargaining tools. These wage standards are not always adequate to support a family, but they can create a floor from which unions can negotiate for higher wages and benefits.
The Federation agrees with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC) that public funding for construction and development projects should go to employers who pay prevailing wages to their workers, guarantee health and safety on the job, and provide high-quality training and apprenticeship programs. Prevailing wage laws put us on the high-road of economic development.
The failure to pay prevailing wages and benefits does not save money: it shifts other costs to taxpayers. Workers without health care or pensions end up in public hospitals and emergency rooms and are forced to rely on public programs. Workplace injuries resulting from poorly trained workers also shift costs to taxpayers and other employers. Indeed, the failure to pay prevailing wages often increases construction costs, reduces tax revenues, forces skilled workers to migrate to other areas, and harms the overall economy.
The Federation joins the SBCTC in opposing all efforts to undermine Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) and prevailing wage laws, such as when city governments propose transitioning from a general law city to a charter city for the express purpose of opting out of state prevailing wage laws and prohibiting project labor agreements. This approach is wrongheaded as it represents an erosion of standards in the construction industry. It also undermines good wages and benefits on public projects at a time when private development has receded, and publicly funded construction makes up a larger chunk of available construction work.
We support the efforts of the SBCTC to protect local government’s ability to choose whether a PLA is the best option to deliver an on-time, high-quality construction project at best cost to taxpayers. The Federation will continue to work to ensure that city, county, and state governments can use PLAs when they so choose. The Federation will continue to support the SBCTC’s efforts to protect Project Labor Agreements and prevailing wages and level the playing field for union contractors in California.
Overtime and Comp Time
When workers put in extra hours, they deserve to be compensated. The Federation opposes any efforts to infringe on workers’ rights to overtime pay. Overtime pay protects workers from dangerously long shifts. In the current jobs crisis, overtime pay also creates an incentive for employers to hire the appropriate number of employees rather than piling more hours on fewer workers.
Under Obama, the Department of Labor issued a new rule to extend overtime pay to 4 million workers across the country. The rule would have required employers to pay overtime to most salaried workers earning less than $47,476 annually. The salary cutoff for overtime pay is currently $23,660. The Trump Administration refused to defend the rule after a judge ruled against it. Though California’s overtime salary cut-off is tied to our minimum wage, and not the federal rule, millions of Californians would have qualified for overtime under the federal rule for three years. The Federation supports state legislation to increase the overtime salary cut-off and increased pay for workers who put in the extra hours on the job.
Each year in Sacramento, legislators introduce Chamber of Commerce-sponsored bills to take away overtime protections and to expand the use of the alternative workweek. We oppose efforts by Republican lawmakers to demand concessions on the 8-hour day as part of reaching any state deal, since such a proposal saves the state no money and simply hurts workers already struggling to get by.
We support extending and strengthening overtime laws for all workers in the state, including domestic and farm workers. We will resist any future efforts and continue to vigilantly defend the 8-hour day in California. We continue to oppose unnecessary mandatory overtime policies, and we support policies that curb abuse by supervisors and managers.
Meal and Rest Periods
No workplace right is more basic than a lunch break. The Federation will staunchly defend workers’ rights to take meal and rest periods during the workday. For six years the Federation battled Governor Schwarzenegger’s attempts to take away meal and rest periods. We are proud to have won every time and will continue to protect this essential workers’ right.
The Federation is committed to educating workers about their meal period rights and to ensure that employers are following the law. This is an essential worker protection and we cannot allow workers to be discouraged or prevented from taking needed breaks. We will continue to fight to protect this basic right for all workers.
Paid Sick Days
The Federation believes that all workers deserve time to care for themselves and their sick family members without fear of losing their jobs or their wages. In 2014, the Governor signed a law mandating paid sick days for 6.5 million working Californians. Unfortunately, the law excludes home care workers who still do not have a legal right to paid sick days. The state $15 minimum wage includes paid sick days for home care workers, fully implemented in later years.
We support increasing the number of sick days workers can take in California to care for themselves and their families. We will continue to work to ensure that all workers in California have the right to take paid sick days.
All workers deserve a secure and dignified retirement. Over the last decade, we have seen an all-out assault on retirement security, with employers swapping out defined benefit plans for riskier defined contribution plans, ongoing attempts to rollback public employee pensions, and a push to privatize social security.
Individual savings like 401(k) plans and IRAs cannot offer all the benefits of real pensions. Defined benefit pension plans are the only ones that can offer real retirement security. They provide for all covered workers a predictable and reliable lifetime retirement income, valuable survivor and disability protections, possible early retirement benefits, and post-retirement benefit increases.
As fewer private sector workers have access to secure pension plans, so too are public sector workers seeing their retirements chipped away. These workers have sacrificed wages and other benefits to preserve a decent retirement. Pension reform has already taken place at bargaining tables up and down the state. In every city and county, public employees and government representatives have come together to negotiate how to get through these tough times. In virtually every jurisdiction, collective bargaining has resulted in the adoption of two-tier plans, increased employee contributions or extended retirement age.
The Federation opposes efforts to abrogate collective bargaining to force concessions and takeaways unilaterally. We oppose attempts by local politicians to circumvent collective bargaining by placing takeaway initiatives on the ballot rather than negotiating over them. We oppose efforts to strip away vested retirement benefits of current workers. We oppose the push to eliminate defined benefit pensions, eliminating all retirement security for a workforce that does not even have Social Security.
Governor Brown has indicated that he wants to cut pension benefits for current public employees, which would essentially take away a vested benefit from workers. The Federation opposes any attempt to undermine, reduce, modify, or take away the pension benefits that workers have earned through their hard work and years of service.
The Federation is committed to pursuing real retirement security for all including:
- Expanding and improving Social Security: The bedrock of retirement security for America’s working families is Social Security. We oppose attempts to weaken Social Security by cutting benefits under the guise of “strengthening” the Social Security trust fund by reducing its outflow. We oppose efforts to institute the chained Consumer Price Index and we must continue to fight all such efforts. We oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits and support repealing the federal tax on benefits. We echo the AFL-CIO’s support for taxing income above the existing taxable earnings cap and the position that mandatory coverage of all public employees must not be part of any funding plan.
- Including all workers in Social Security and Medicare: Currently, the In-Home Supportive Services program excludes parent and spouse providers from paying into Social Security and Medicare. We support extending Social Security and Medicare to all IHSS providers, regardless of family status.
- Resisting efforts to privatize public pensions: Republican legislators continue to push for pension privatization. These proposals would jeopardize the secure retirement benefits our members have fought for and sacrificed wage increases to preserve. We know that efforts to undermine defined benefit pension plans in the public sector would only accelerate the corporate push to eliminate secure retirement for private sector union members, as well.
- Ensuring employer responsibility: All employers should be required to fund retirement benefits as an essential part of every worker’s pay. Private-sector employers that do not provide such a plan should be required to contribute into either a supplementary Social Security plan or a government-sponsored annuity plan that builds on existing programs, e.g., state employees’ pension systems. We should build toward a system of retirement security for all workers with well-run pension plans and educated trustees.
- Curbing abuse of the bankruptcy process: No employer should be able enter bankruptcy proceedings for shedding their pension obligations. Cities and counties must be restrained from the use of municipal bankruptcy to eliminate pension obligations. The state must have oversight into the municipal bankruptcy process to ensure that it is not abused to undermine retirement security, as is the case in 19 other states.
- Stopping imposition of inadequate pension plans: Many employers are attempting to impose new two-tier pension plans on employees, including hybrid plans, defined contribution plans, or other plans that do not offer adequate retirement benefits. These plans will place older workers in untenable situations, where they will be forced to continue working or retire without enough money to survive. Any new retirement benefit plans should be implemented through collective bargaining and provide reasonable benefits that will allow workers to retire with dignity.
- The Federation believes that all workers deserve basic workplace rights, whether they are temporary workers, part-timers, independent contractors, or subcontracted employees.
Hurricanes, raging wildfires, and other disasters frequently spark big-hearted responses from Californians ready to step in and help wherever they can. California union members are committed volunteers in their communities and are often the first on the scene to lend a hand to those in need. At the same time, we recognize that volunteer labor should not be relied upon to replace or eliminate jobs that should be filled with trained professionals.
The proper staffing of emergency responder positions, environmental clean-up crews, and other disaster-response teams is vital for worker, public, and environmental safety. In cases where volunteer labor is appropriate, volunteers should be provided with all necessary legal protections, including workers’ compensation insurance, as well as the proper level of training, protective clothing, and equipment for the tasks to which they are assigned. Volunteer worksites should always follow all worker health and safety standards for volunteers, including applicable standards for the use of a respirator. Volunteer work should be properly documented by the agency and accessible to the volunteer in case of injury or other issues.
Workers should not be expected to serve as volunteers at their own worksites. Recent proposals to require classified school employee “volunteers,” without any medical experience, to administer medications to students pose serious threats to student safety and workers’ rights. In this economy, workers do not really have the option of declining so-called voluntary assignments without fear of consequences. Districts should not be able to shirk their responsibility under federal law to provide adequate medical care to students by pressuring classified employees to take on this role.
The Underground Economy
California’s vast underground economy continues to grow. An estimated 2 million Californians—15 percent of the total workforce—work in the underground economy. Because business in the underground economy is conducted outside the bounds of state law, businesses gain an unfair advantage over their law-abiding competitors by flouting labor laws and ignoring their tax obligations to federal, state, and local governments.
Employers who flout basic labor laws have a corrosive effect on entire industries as well-meaning employers are forced to lower standards to compete. In these industries, wage theft is a part of the strategy of unscrupulous employers, and the fines for violations are just the cost of doing business and not a real deterrent.
Workers in the underground economy suffer the worst abuses. Many do not earn fair wages or overtime pay. Some are never paid at all. They are often forced to work in unsafe work environments. If they are hurt, they cannot receive workers’ compensation. If they lose their jobs, they do not get unemployment insurance. In the construction industry, the underground economy remains a critical problem, resulting in lower wages and appalling safety conditions. Undocumented workers are most likely to be trapped in these no-win situations
Employers have also become more sophisticated at evading justice. Those who abuse workers’ rights have learned how to stall enforcement actions through frivolous appeals and how to prevent any recovery for workers by declaring bankruptcy and re-opening their companies under new names. Other companies can simply wait out the administrative process until workers give up or are forced to move to find new work.
The Federation supports policies to crack down on scofflaw employers and to protect workers who report labor law violations from retaliation. We also support adequate funding of the Labor Commissioner and other efforts to expedite the wage claim process and to expedite the collection of back wages and penalties from recalcitrant employers.
The underground economy is built on employers exploiting the vulnerability of immigrant workers who lack legal status. The threat of deportation and fear of reporting labor law violations to authorities when they lack legal status keeps immigrant workers trapped in the underground economy. The Federation supports immigration reform that gives immigrant workers full protection under U.S. employment and labor law and prevents employers from using legal status to exploit and threaten immigrant workers.
Labor Law Enforcement
The Federation has fought for stricter enforcement and tougher penalties for scofflaw employers. Creating a real deterrent to wage theft is a step in the right direction to cracking down on unscrupulous employers. Robust and targeted enforcement is also needed, requiring full funding of enforcement agencies, as well as information sharing and other tools to focus enforcement on the worst actors in key industries.
We support coordinated enforcement and investigations between tax and labor law enforcement agencies. The Federation has supported legislation to increase the penalties for employers that pay unfair wages or illegally withhold wages, but those penalties remain far too low. The state should maintain a public database of labor law violators to bring needed scrutiny to these employers.
Many employers punish and retaliate against workers who report violations to deter other workers from filing complaints. Current protections against retaliation are inadequate and thousands of retaliation cases filed with the state have yet to be acted upon. We support legislation to curb retaliatory actions by employers, such as requiring employers to prove they are not retaliating if they fire workers who have filed labor claims.
Funding for labor law enforcement has failed to keep pace with the growth in the state’s workforce. We support all efforts to increase state funding for labor law enforcement through the Labor Commissioner, Cal/OSHA, the Public Employment Relations Board, the Employment Development Department, district attorneys, and the Attorney General’s office. We support empowering unions to take legal action on behalf of aggrieved workers. The Federation also supports Labor-management labor law compliance funds, which have proven useful in combating scofflaw employers in the construction and janitorial industries.
We support increased coordination between different departments and agencies to best enforce labor laws. Employers that violate health and safety and tax laws are likely violating labor laws for employees, as well. Coordinated investigations, record-keeping, and databases between agencies could increase enforcement, and allow for better use and consolidation of the resources of different departments.
We support all efforts to make enforcement avenues more accessible and responsive to workers. We support the elimination of barriers to collecting wages due after the Labor Commissioner or the courts pass judgments. We also believe that enforcement will not be effective unless workers can communicate with public agencies in their own languages. The Federation will continue to work for better resources, including increased multilingual staffing for labor law enforcement.
The Labor Federation has spent decades working to strengthen and expand labor law to protect workers’ rights. We have fought for increased funding for enforcement and worked to make that enforcement more aggressive and effective. However, all that work is worthless if workers are forced to waive their rights to justice.
Today, many employers are requiring workers to sign away enforcement of those rights, effectively denying them access to justice and due process. Mandatory waivers of rights are agreements that workers are required to sign as a condition of employment. These documents generally prohibit a worker from filing a claim to a state agency or court and require that any potential claims be submitted to the employer’s arbitrator. The issue of forced arbitration has been exposed more recently as a tool to protect individuals accused of sexual harassment.
Mandatory arbitration clauses are on the rise in virtually every form of contract. Most people sign agreements to arbitrate, whether they know it or not. These agreements appear in a wide variety of contracts: in credit card and banking agreements, medical forms, and, most dangerously, as a mandatory condition of employment. These mandatory arbitration agreements require workers to waive various rights, submit to an arbitration process designed unilaterally by the employer, and be bound by a decision made by an arbitrator who is paid directly by the employer.
Requiring workers to sign waivers of basic labor rights as a condition of employment is fundamentally unfair. More and more, employers are using waiver of rights agreements to deny employees basic work¬place protections and workers are virtually powerless to stop it. With these waivers, workers with claims relating to discrimination, wage and hour violations, dangerous working conditions, or other workplace disputes can only seek justice through the employer’s mandated process. Workers are even barred from taking labor violations claims to the Labor Commissioner making the Labor Code all but useless to protect workers.
Worse yet, in many cases workers are unaware of these waivers of rights. There is no requirement that these waivers be translated into a language the worker can understand. In many instances, low-wage immigrant workers are being forced to sign documents they cannot read or understand, or else be fired. Further, these waivers can be in small, fine print.
The Federation will continue to fight against employers using any tool to force workers to waive their right to legal or administrative remedies to violations of their rights. We have fought too long and too hard to let employers privatize the justice system to work in their favor alone. Workers have the right to their day in court and their right to take claims to the Labor Commissioner.