Whenever we start a new job, we expect to have a stack of paperwork to fill out, with documents to sign. But what we don’t expect is for the boss to demand that we sign a document that basically nullifies our rights. Under the latest scheme to cheat workers, that’s exactly what’s happening. Just ask car wash worker Yoel Matute.
Matute had worked at a Santa Monica car wash for seven years and was upset because he believed he wasn’t being paid for all the hours he worked. So in 2012 he decided to sue in court to recover his wages.
Matute soon got an unwelcome surprise. His employer attempted to enforce an arbitration agreement – an agreement Matute didn’t even know he had signed — preventing him from filing a lawsuit. Instead, the agreement mandated that the dispute be heard in arbitration, an out-of-court process that generally favors employers over workers like Matute.
When he had originally applied for his job Matute was handed what he thought was a work application. Some parts of the document were in Spanish, others in English. Matute, who is from Honduras and can read little Spanish and virtually no English, was given just a few minutes to review it, and he did not understand any of the sections in English. Car wash managers did not explain the document to him, but he understood he needed to sign it if he wanted the job. Nobody told him he was waiving his right to bring a workplace dispute to court.
“I had no idea that what I had signed was an arbitration clause,” Matute, 42, a thin, soft-spoken man who projects an inner strength, tells Capital & Main in Spanish. “I thought it was a work application and that I needed to sign the document the way it was presented to me or I would not be permitted to work at the car wash.”
He adds, “This is unjust. They took advantage of me and other workers because they knew I was in a vulnerable place and I need to support my family. I needed the work.”
Yoel’s story is becoming more common. In fact, according to a recent report, 40% of employers are using these agreements, which take away workers’ rights to go to the Labor Commissioner or sue in court when they are cheated out of wages or sexually harassed, for example. Instead, workers must go through an arbitration process paid for and rigged by the boss. And what happens if they refuse to sign? They get the Donald Trump “You’re Fired!” treatment.
The Legislature is currently considering AB 465, a bill that would make it illegal for bosses to fire workers who don’t sign these agreements and ensure the agreements are fully understood by workers.
As you might imagine, corporations aren’t keen on ending this scheme so they put together an all-out lobbying blitz to kill this commonsense worker protection legislation. We need your help to make sure it passes.
Send a message to your State Senator today to urge them to vote YES on AB 465 because no worker should ever have to sign away his or her rights as a condition of employment. Click here to take action.