Workers Stand Up Against Governor's Lunch Break Regulations
Workers Say: Schwarzenegger's Changes Would Increase Intimidation and Harassment at the Workplace
LOS ANGELES – Southern California workers rallied outside a public hearing today to warn that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s changes to state wage and hour law will make it harder for workers to take a lunch break. The Governor’s proposal would weaken state law that protects the right to meal and rest breaks.
“I can't use my right arm anymore from working such long hours at my machine without breaks,” said Telma Mendoza, a Los Angeles garment worker. “The employers don’t pay us to take rest breaks, and they don’t let us take a lunch break if they have a deadline for delivery.”
Union leaders and health and safety experts joined the event to argue that workers need more protection from unscrupulous companies, not less. Workplace health and safety expert Carol Frischman from the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program testified that the changes would have potentially
serious consequences for California workers and the public. “Workers in a wide range of occupations and industries will experience increased health and safety risks,” said Frischman.
Miguel Contreras, leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, called on the Governor to withdraw the proposed changes, citing Schwarzenegger’s track record of rewarding corporate contributors at the expense of working Californians. “Governor Schwarzenegger says that he is against special interests,” said Contreras. “And then he changes the law to get Wal-Mart and his other corporate contributors off the hook for cheating workers out of breaks and meal periods.” Wal-Mart donated over $155,000 to the Republican Party and Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2004.
The Governor’s changes would limit the amount of time employers could be held liable for not providing breaks. “The claim that these rule changes are about flexibility is a distraction technique,” said Contreras. Companies that have lawsuits pending will get a ‘get out of jail free’ pass if these changes become law.”
Contreras also noted that while the Administration claims the rule changes are about making timing on lunch breaks more flexible, they fail to mention the clause that allows employers to intimidate workers into signing away break rights.
In December Governor Schwarzenegger tried to submit the changes as “emergency” regulations but was forced to rescind that status because of public outcry. Because the Governor’s proposed rule changes are no longer classified as emergency regulations, the public has 120 days to comment.