On Workers’ Rights, California Makes the Grade

This week the Congressional Democrats released a report showing how states stack up on a range of workplace issues from minimum wage and paid sick day laws to nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers and accommodations for pregnant workers.  California made the grade, with a perfect score on the issues the report graded.

That comes as no surprise to those of us who live and work here. California prides itself on ensuring working people have the protections in law they deserve. Compare the California report to, say, North Carolina, which flunks in every category. If you’re a worker in North Carolina and you get sick, too bad. Go to work. Need a higher minimum wage? Forget about it. Special accommodations on the job if you’re pregnant? Not gonna happen in Charlotte.

If you’re wondering why there’s such a disparity between states like North Carolina and California, the explanation is pretty simple. Unions.  In California, 16.3 percent of all workers have the protection of a union on the job. As a result, unions are strong enough to effectively advocate for important laws that don’t just benefit union members, but all workers. We help elect pro-worker candidates who fight for pro-worker laws and stop laws that weaken workers’ rights. In North Carolina, on the other hand, politicians do everything in their power to hamstring unions and scuttle laws that benefit workers. Less than 2 percent of all workers in that state have a union on the job.

The important point here is that pro-worker laws like paid family leave, higher minimum wages, workplace safety protections and paid sick days don’t happen spontaneously. Unions have to fight for them, often going up against an army of corporate lobbyists. But the example we’ve set in California shows that when working people stand together, we win.

Even here in California, a strong union state, corporate groups hold considerable power in the legislature. And even though we have the nation’s strongest workplace protections on the books, CEOs are always finding ways to skirt those laws. So while we’re proud of the work we’ve done to position California as a national leader on worker protections, we have much more to do. Too many Californians still don’t have a path to the American Dream. But what this report shows is that in California, and other states where unions are strong, workers – both union and non-union — are much better off.  As Democratic lawmakers in Congress consider how to improve the lives of working people, making it easier to join a union ought to be at the top of the list.