New California law protects immigrant workers from threat of deportation for exercising employment rights 1

New California law protects immigrant workers from threat of deportation for exercising employment rights

By Michael Marsh

Did you know that, nearly one in ten workers in California is an undocumented immigrant? That a majority of undocumented immigrants work in hard-labor, low-wage occupations where health and safety laws are often ignored? That twenty nine percent of California workers killed in industrial accidents are immigrants?

These sobering facts are among those reported in a recent study by the National Employment Law Project, which also found that immigrant workers are often cheated out of their wages. Seventy six percent of those surveyed worked “off the clock” without pay, and eighty five percent did not receive overtime.

How can this be? Unscrupulous employers, who ignore workers’ undocumented status when hiring, use the threat of deportation to intimidate employees from exercising basic workplace rights. This cut-throat behavior not only hurts their employees, it also adversely affects the economic well-being of their law-abiding competitors and of the citizens and lawful permanent residents whose wages and working conditions spiral downward in response.

Late last week, Governor Brown signed into law a bill sponsored by Senator Darrell Steinberg. The new law makes it illegal for an employer to report or threaten to report the immigration or citizenship status of any worker or member of a worker’s family who complains about unsafe working conditions, refusal to pay earned wages, sexual harassment or other illegal employment practices. The law expansively defines “family member” to cover not only immediate family, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins, from such threats.

Penalties for violation are substantial, and may include fines of up to $10,000 per incident, as well as suspension or loss of one’s business license. Furthermore, attorneys who report the immigration status of parties, witnesses or family members of employees involved in an employment rights lawsuit, risk having their law licenses suspended or being disbarred.

With the signing of this law, Governor Brown has made it clear that knowingly hiring undocumented workers, benefiting from the fruit of their labors, and threatening them with deportation for asserting California employment rights will no longer be tolerated. It’s about time.

Michael Marsh

About Michael Marsh

Michael Marsh is Directing Attorney of the Salinas office of California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. His practice focuses on working with farmworkers to improve the quality of their working lives.

Shouldn’t the opportunity to work be more than a DREAM? 2

Shouldn’t the opportunity to work be more than a DREAM?

By Sandra Muñoz

WeAreTheAmericanDreamWhat type of job comes to mind when you think about undocumented workers?  If you instantly think gardener, busboy, house cleaner, or maybe cook, then you are very 1999.  There is a whole new generation of undocumented workers that are educated, young, technologically savvy and more American than apple pie.  There are roughly 1.8 million DREAMers in the United States as the younger generation of undocumented Americans are called.  DREAMers are generally those who:

  • are under the age of 31;
  • entered the United States before age 16;
  • have lived continuously in the country for at least five years;
  • have not been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor or three misdemeanors;
  • are currently in school, graduated from high school, earned a GED, or served in the military.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that more and more DREAMers are opting for self-employment as, for example, graphic designers in order to lawfully earn a living.

DREAMers are also earning college degrees in subject matters as diverse as sociology, biology, and the law.

And why wouldn’t they?  For many DREAMers, the United States is the only country they know.  They are fluent in English, assimilated to United States culture, and should be embraced as the new face of the American dream.  And yet there is a significant portion of the population who reject them and refer to them pejoratively as anchor babies.

This short-sighted view does not make economic sense. Since 1982, when the United States Supreme Court held that undocumented immigrant children have a constitutional right to a free public K-12 education, our country has invested in their education.  DREAMers who reside in California already pay in-state tuition fees and have access to private and public financial aid for state colleges and universities if they meet certain requirements.

Rather than reject and in some cases deport these DREAMers, shouldn’t we as a society embrace and applaud them?  Here is a population of American-educated youth who are fully integrated into our society, who desire to work, earn an honest living, and advance the interests of our society.  Why should their right to work be temporary or up for debate every few years in a volatile United States Congress?  Granting DREAMers permanent residency and a quick path to citizenship is the right thing to do – not just for them, but for everyone.

 

Sandra Muñoz

About Sandra Muñoz

Sandra C. Muñoz is the owner of the Law Offices of Sandra C. Muñoz located in East Los Angeles. For over 15 years, Sandra has worked on countless cases involving employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Sandra also has extensive experience in cases involving police abuse. She has also been featured in the Daily Journal, written for the California Business Law magazine, participated on various continuing education panels, and taught legal courses for Dowling College.

100% healed policies = 100% discrimination 3

By V. James DeSimone

For an employee who depends on her job, having to take a disability leave for medical treatment is a frightening prospect.  Picture Cynthia, a 29 year old employee of a major restaurant chain, who suffers from severe and intermittent pain in her hips while walking as the result of a condition stemming from childbirth.  Despite her pain, she performs her job as a server and event coordinator in an exemplary and enthusiastic manner.

After eight years on the job, however, the pain becomes so great that she schedules  surgery on both hips.   Unfortunately, she experiences complications, but Cynthia perseveres through subsequent surgeries and a painful rehabilitation, determined to get well enough to return to work and her normal life.

At each step of the way, she keeps her employer updated on her status, confident that she will be able to do her job with minimal restrictions.  Finally, after an extended medical leave of absence from work, she is ready to go back to the job she loves and on which she depends.

But there is a stumbling block.  She is ready to come back to work and suggests a less physically demanding retail position. However, the Human Resources Director informs her, “don’t come back until you are 100% better,” and Cynthia is never going to be “100% healed.”  She will always have limitations that will require some accommodation from her employer in order to perform her job.

However, she is not deterred.  In anticipation of returning to work, Cynthia schedules a meeting with her supervisors to discuss the modifications she will need, but they cancel it. Then, out of the blue, she receives a letter from the company terminating her employment.  The reason:  job abandonment — failure to return from leave.

Cynthia’s experience is not unique. Employee advocates report that termination after a disability leave or a request for accommodation are two of the most frequent reasons why an employee will contact a lawyer.   According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), one of the “hottest areas of EEOC litigation right now involves the agency’s efforts to root out inflexible leave policies – particularly those that supposedly eliminate an employer’s legal obligation to explore and make reasonable accommodations for employees returning from medical leaves of absence.”

The California Commission on Health and Safety and Worker Compensation has published a “Helping Injured Employees Return to Work,” a handbook of practical guidance for businesses.    It provides as examples of inappropriate policies:

  • Requiring that injured employees be released to full duty without restrictions or be healed 100 percent before returning.
  • Always terminating an employee if he or she is unable to return to full duty after a specific, fixed period.
  • Delaying discussion of job accommodations until the employee’s condition is permanent and stationary.

Almost all courts that have examined these so-called “100% healed” policies have concluded that they are an outright violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.   When an employee is out on disability leave, companies must communicate with the employee, preferably in person, in what is called the good faith interactive process.  All attempts to reasonably accommodate the employee to allow him or her to perform the essential functions of the job should be made.

The rules for reasonable accommodations protect all of us.  After all, we never know when one of us or a loved one may become sick or injured and require some form of leave or accommodation.  It’s a shame that it sometimes takes a lawsuit to hold companies accountable when they break the rules.  But what’s clear is this — when it comes to “100% healed” policies, employers should take heed that the justice system is going to hold them 100% liable.

V. James DeSimone

About V. James DeSimone

In October of 2015, after 25 years as a partner in Schonbrun DeSimone, Jim opened up his own law firm, V. James DeSimone Law, located in Marina Del Rey. In 2014, Jim was honored with a CLAY award for California Civil Rights Lawyer of the Year. He has been named a Top Employment Lawyer in California by the Daily Journal for 6 of the past 8 years. He is a trial lawyer focusing on civil rights and employment law and has tried numerous cases to verdict achieving seven figure recoveries for his clients. As a civil rights and employment lawyer, his cases range from wage and hour class actions to individual employment discrimination cases, and to representation of families whose family members with a disability have been killed by police officers. You can find out more about his work at www.vjamesdesimonelaw.com.

Finally, overtime coverage for all domestic workers in California!

Finally, overtime coverage for all domestic workers in California!

BVHRFetCIAA_z1k.jpg-largeBy Hina Shah

After nearly 75 years of exclusion from federal and state labor protections, domestic workers have finally scored two important victories in their fight for equal treatment.  Late last week, Governor Brown signed AB 241, extending California overtime protections to domestic workers who spend a significant amount of time caring for children, elderly and people with disabilities.  One week earlier the federal Department of Labor finalized new rules that significantly extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to domestic workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities.  Together, these actions extend overtime coverage to all domestic workers in California.

These historic changes are a direct result of domestic workers organizing on the local, state, and national level.  Over the past eight years, the California Domestic Workers Coalition has built a grassroots, worker-led, statewide movement in California that includes allies from labor, faith groups and employers.  Similar efforts by domestic workers in New York and Hawaii have also resulted in legislative victories.

The struggle for equal treatment of domestic workers dates back to the beginning of the regulated workplace.  Domestic workers organized a massive letter writing campaign in the 1920s and 1930s. Highlighting slave-like working conditions, they petitioned President Franklin and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, to cover them under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to no avail.  Thirty-six years later, when Congress amended the FLSA to include most domestic workers in minimum wage protections and overtime pay, it exempted live-in domestic workers from overtime and excluded casual babysitters and companions for the elderly or people with disabilities entirely.

In California, a similar letter writing campaign was instituted to get the Wage Board to regulate employment in the home as early as the 1940s.  However, when California finally adopted a Wage Order for Household Occupations in 1976, it exempted domestic workers (called “personal attendants”) who spent a significant amount of time caring for children, elderly and people with disabilities.    Personal attendants finally gained minimum wage protection in 2001 and have only now gained the right to overtime.

These gains, while significant, are not secure.  Because the federal regulations do not take effect until 2015, there is fear that they may be reversed with a change in administration.  The California statute is set to expire in 2016, unless the legislature acts to extend it.

One reason for these time limitations is the fear that home care will become unaffordable for many modest to low-income recipients.  Available evidence is to the contrary.

Currently, fifteen states provide minimum wage and overtime protection to home care workers and twenty-one states provide minimum wage. According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, institutionalization rates are not higher in states that provide home care workers with minimum wage and overtime.  Furthermore, there is significant cost to high turnover rates (estimated at between 44 and 65%) that is a direct result of low wages and poor working conditions.

While neither AB 241 nor the federal rules are a panacea, domestic workers in California have much to celebrate this month. Today’s home-care industry is staffed by trained professionals. These workers are their families’ breadwinners.  The removal of these historical exemptions at both the federal and state level is an important first step in valuing their labor as real work, and recognizing the dignity of those who care for our loved ones.

Hina Shah

About Hina Shah

Hina B. Shah is an Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director at the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic (WERC) of Golden Gate University School of Law, addressing employment and labor issues faced by low wage and immigrant workers.

It’s none of their business, or is it? 3

It's none of their business, or is it?

By Daniel Velton

About 100 years ago, Ford Motor Company had a “sociological department” of investigators who monitored Ford workers’ off-duty conduct to ensure those employees didn’t drink too much, kept their homes clean and “properly” spent their leisure time.

About two weeks ago, an employer in San Francisco announced a new policy prohibiting the use of all tobacco products on its property by employees, even while on break and even while in their personal cars. With the new rule comes the introduction of a team of “tobacco-free ambassadors” to advise workers of the prohibition. It’s not the first employer to implement a tobacco-free policy, and probably not the last.

The new policy, like the old one at the turn of the last century, is apt to reignite a debate over workers’ right to privacy and the freedom to do what they want in their free time. Unquestionably, the goal of tobacco free-policies in the workplace is noble. Thousands die of smoking-related illnesses every year, cigarette butts litter smoking areas, and most find that smoke just plain smells bad. Even more important, the workplace at issue here is effectively a hospital environment with numerous medical patients. In announcing its new policy, the hospital itself acknowledges that nicotine forms an addiction as bitterly painful as any to break. (To its substantial credit, UCSF will provide free nicotine replacement gum to help with cravings).

Employer regulation of off-duty conduct has led to numerous laws across the country. In California, for example, Labor Code section 98.6 prohibits terminating or in any way discriminating against an employee because he or she engaged in “lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.” Whether smoking in one’s car during a lunch break qualifies as protected off-duty conduct remains to be seen. Either way, those taking part in the inevitable debate over this issue should be mindful of the important interests on both sides. Successfully striking a balance between employee freedoms and patient/coworker rights to a smoke-free environment is going to be as difficult as going cold turkey ever was.

Daniel Velton

About Daniel Velton

Daniel Velton began his career with the largest labor and employment law firm in the world. Using that experience, he brings valuable knowledge and perspective to his current practice, in which he exclusively represents employees in individual and class action discrimination, wrongful termination, harassment, wage and hour, and other employment cases.

Is franchising the new frontier for wage theft? 1

Is franchising the new frontier for wage theft?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-headline-franchise-opportunities-image24730347

By Monique Olivier

The woman who empties your trash in your office, moving quietly around you at your desk as you finish that late night project – did you know there is a good chance she “owns” her own cleaning business?

At least that is what companies like Jani-King, Coverall and Jan-Pro would have you believe, and want the courts to believe as well.  Their business model relies upon the fiction that these janitors — having paid thousands of dollars in cash up front to buy the right to clean — will reap the rewards of being entrepreneurs.

In fact, these janitors do not even control their own wallets, let alone their professional destinies.  A key distinction between a “janitorial franchise” and, say, a McDonald’s or if for example one gets a service station for sale, is that the janitors have no right to control the stream of income they recognize.  Franchisors like Jani-King hold all of the cleaning contracts and grant or refuse permission to franchisees to clean particular accounts.  They also dictate the terms of the accounts – when a janitor will clean, what a janitor will clean and how much the janitor will be paid for each cleaning job.

Sound suspiciously like the janitors are employees?  Several courts and experts think so, and cases decided in the realm of cleaning franchise litigation are being closely watched by business and workers alike.

A case against Jani-King currently pending in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Juarez v. Jani-King International, may provide guidance as to whether these so-called “franchisees” are, in fact, employees under California law.  In Massachusetts, a federal district court already ruled in favor of similar workers, deciding that classifying them as independent contractors instead of employees was against the law.  Another Massachusetts court, in a case filed against Coverall North America, not only concluded that its cleaning worker “franchisees” were employees  under the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law, but pointed out the similarity between its self-described “franchising business” and a Ponzi scheme.

Boston University’s David Weil agrees.  According to his excellent research, janitorial franchisors’ profitability (which can be upwards of 40%) depends on a steady stream of fees from new “franchisees,” regardless of whether there is sufficient work to sustain the ones it already has.

Recently, the National Employment Law Project weighed in on other widely recognized abuses by so-called “franchise” cleaning companies in the commercial cleaning industry. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the Juarez case on behalf of a coalition of workers’ rights organizations, NELP reviews the janitorial industry’s abysmal scorecard on fair pay and working conditions, arguing that janitorial franchising schemes enable rampant non-compliance with basic labor standards.

Even the U.S. Department of Labor has gotten into the act.  Its 2012 proposed budget targets misclassification of workers as an important enforcement priority, noting that the janitorial industry has a higher rate of violations than many other industries.

What it comes down to is this – sophisticated corporations, dissatisfied with earning money the old-fashioned way, are tricking unskilled low-wage workers into paying  thousands of dollars for the privilege of cleaning America’s office buildings in the futile pursuit of a fake American Dream.  The time is now for the courts and the government to rein in these abuses.

Monique Olivier

About Monique Olivier

Monique Olivier is a partner at Duckworth Peters Lebowitz Olivier LLP where she represents individuals and classes in employment, civil rights and consumer cases at the trial and appellate levels. She frequently speaks on and writes about class action and employment issues. She also makes a mean pulled pork.

Getting a job should not require giving up an important constitutional right 1

Getting a job should not require giving up an important constitutional right

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-contract-image29003522By Nicolas Orihuela

Imagine if a private individual, paid by the wealthier or well-connected party in a dispute, got to decide if the government had the right to curtail your free speech, or if an employer could terminate you because of your religious beliefs, or if the police had the right to abuse your fellow citizens, would you want this system of justice?  Of course not — the deck would be stacked against you at the start.

That’s what happens to employees who are forced to sign an arbitration agreement, which is that buried clause in the employment contract that requires all employment disputes to be resolved through arbitration as opposed to the traditional civil justice system.  In a recent study concerning employment arbitrations before the American Arbitration Association, one of the largest arbitration service providers in the country, the win rate of employees was a meager 21.4% (compared to a win rate of 36.4% in federal court and a win rate of 59% in California state court).  That same study revealed that in arbitration employees tend to obtain smaller awards compared to employees who prevail in jury trials.  Also, as the paying customer of these arbitrators, employers tend to improve their win rates in arbitration by using the same arbitration service provider multiple times (known as the “repeat player” effect).  Under one analysis, the win rate among employees drops from 23.4% to 12.0% when there is a repeat employer-arbitrator pairing.

In today’s world where arbitration agreements are becoming ubiquitous, getting a job now often means signing away your Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.  The founders of our country, who knew this right was vitally important to a democratic republic, wrote it into the original Bill of Rights, along with the right to freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to an attorney in a criminal case.  The Seventh Amendment was no accident.  The right to have your peers sit in judgment of your civil case was considered indispensable to a functional democracy and a powerful check on the government and the well-connected.

In the courts, employees are not going down without a fight.  Many battle their employers for the right to be heard in civil court.  But victory is not assured..  The question of whether the courts will respect the Seventh Amendment or side with employers’ one-sided agreements is still undecided.  The question may soon come to a head in the California Supreme Court.

Recently, the California Supreme Court granted review in two cases that exemplify what is wrong with arbitration agreements forced upon employees.  In Leos v. Darden Restaurants, Inc., a female employee was subjected to workplace sex harassment.  When she filed a complaint in civil court, the employer argued that an arbitration agreement forced upon her at the beginning of her employment required her to submit her claims to arbitration.  As is typical of many, it favored the employer, who retained the right to amend or modify the agreement at any time, placed barriers on the employee’s ability to obtain information essential to reveal evidence of wrongdoing, and exempted arbitration claims that only the  employer could  pursue against the employee.  While the Court of Appeal agreed that the arbitration agreement was unfairly forced upon the employee, it still concluded that the employer was entitled to enforce it.  If this is not unfair, then what is?

Leos is to be decided together with Baltazar v. Foreover 21, Inc., a sexual and racial harassment case involving a similar forced arbitration agreement: The employee was told, “sign it, or no job.”  As in Leos, the agreement  covered only claims that an employee is likely to bring  (e.g., discrimination claims, wage and hour claims, etc.).

Both Leos and Baltazar represent the typical scenario that employees face on the first day of a new job. These court of appeal rulings represent a troubling trend towards overlooking the real world disparities in power that produce unfair arbitration agreements.  While both courts agreed that the  agreements were unfairly forced upon the employee, they still held that they  were enforceable contracts.

In both cases what is at stake is much larger than contract interpretation and defenses to contract formation.  What is at stake is preserving  employees’ Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial and preventing the unfair and biased process of forced arbitration.

It’s now up to the California Supreme Court finally to say what is obvious — forced arbitration agreements are an abuse of power that violate employees’ constitutional rights — and to act accordingly, by refusing to enforce them.

Nicolas Orihuela

About Nicolas Orihuela

Nicolas Orihuela is a founding partner of the employment law firm of Hurwitz, Orihuela & Hayes, LLP and has been practicing since 2002. He represents employees in race discrimination, sex harassment, wrongful termination and disability discrimination related cases. He also handles wage and hour cases.

Swipe paycard, have wages swiped

Swipe paycard, have wages swiped

By Daniel Velton

When you make minimum wage at $8 an hour, you expect it to actually be $8 an hour. Not $7, not $7.25, not $7.99.

Reinforcing that obvious principle, federal consumer protection regulators last week issued a bulletin warning employers that they cannot force workers to accept wages on pay cards, many of which later lead to surprise fees for withdrawing the money those workers have already earned.

Across the country almost 4 million households have someone who receives their wages on a payroll card, according to a recent survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The cards, often issued to workers without a bank account, have led to numerous complaints about undisclosed fees those employees encounter when trying to access the funds.

In June, a Pennsylvania woman filed a class action lawsuit against the McDonald’s franchise where she worked based on alleged minimum wage violations caused by a pay card system that charged her and other workers to withdraw their earnings. In her case, the pay cards allegedly charged between $1.50 and $5 for each withdrawal.

Why all the noise over a few bucks here or pennies there? First, minimum wage workers rely on every last cent of their income to make ends meet, and paying fees on a regular basis to receive that income adds up. Second, the payroll industry is a $25-45 billion sector. Processing pay stubs and physical checks for companies with thousands of employees costs a lot of money. In other words, cutting out those processes (for example, by implementing mandatory pay card systems) results in tremendous cost savings and a net benefit on the corporate bottom line. Banks, who charge the withdrawal fees on pay cards, win big too. There is only one loser in this picture.

Nevertheless, pay cards can be put to good use. In principle, they provide easy access to wages for workers without bank accounts, preventing them, among other things, from having to make regular trips to a check cashing business that charges transaction fees.

California lawmakers have tried to regulate the use of pay cards. A couple years ago, Senate Bill 931 passed in spite of fierce opposition from business and banking interests. The Governor, however, did not sign the bill, stating that it would impose numerous and costly new requirements on pay card providers. At the same time, he recognized that “reasonable protections are needed for those who use pay cards” and vowed to work with legislators on a regulatory solution.

With the growing use of pay cards across the country, lawmakers who revisit this important issue should keep in mind that people already work hard for their wages. They shouldn’t have to pay for them too.

Daniel Velton

About Daniel Velton

Daniel Velton began his career with the largest labor and employment law firm in the world. Using that experience, he brings valuable knowledge and perspective to his current practice, in which he exclusively represents employees in individual and class action discrimination, wrongful termination, harassment, wage and hour, and other employment cases.

Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t get it when it comes to diversity

In 2010, Abercrombie & Fitch fired a 19-year old Muslim stock clerk who wore a hijab to work with the permission of her local manager.  In answer to her EEOC charge of religious discrimination, the company argued  that any deviation from its “Look Policy” would place an “undue hardship” on its California beach inspired Hollister brand.  Federal District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers didn’t buy it.

In her recent op ed in the Sacramento Bee, CELA VOICE contributor Charlotte Fishman explains how its adherence to a rigid appearance code ran afoul of federal and state law mandating religious accommodation in the workplace.

Charlotte Fishman

About Charlotte Fishman

Charlotte Fishman is a San Francisco attorney with over 30 years of experience handling employment discrimination cases on the plaintiff side. In 2005 she launched Pick Up the Pace, dedicated to overcoming barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace through legal advocacy and public education. She has authored amicus curiae briefs in major cases before the United States and California Supreme Court and writes and speaks to a wide audience on cutting edge employment issues affecting women.

Raising the minimum wage 1

Raising the minimum wage

By Elizabeth Kristen

Last night the California legislature approved Assembly Bill 10 (Luis Alejo (D-Salinas)) to raise the California minimum wage to $10 by 2016,  with Governor Brown indicating he will sign the bill.

When enacted, AB 10 will raise current California minimum wage from $8 to $9 on July 1, 2014 and then to $10 on January 1, 2016.

While California’s minimum wage at $8 per hour has been significantly higher than the federal rate of $7.25, the legislature had not increased California minimum wage since 2008.  To counter the effects of a stagnant state minimum wage, some cities like San Francisco and San Jose have passed on their own higher minimum wages (at $10.55 and $10), respectively.

This summer has seen significant activism to raise the minimum wage.  July 24th was the National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage, marking the four-year anniversary since the federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour.  In the last 30 years, Congress has voted to raise the minimum wage just three times. The current value of minimum wage today is nearly a third lower than it was in 1968.  Meanwhile, chief executives at the nation’s top corporations have seen a median wage increase of 16 percent in the last year alone.

It is no surprise that income inequality has risen nationally, but few realize that California ranks third worst in the country when it comes to the income gap between rich and poor.

AB 10’s minimum wage increases would go a long way toward closing this gap.

Raising the minimum wage will benefit working families.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, women constitute 55% of the workers who benefit from raising the federal minimum wage.  In the restaurant industry, women make up 66% of the workers paid the federal sub-minimum wage.  More than 25% of those who would benefit are parents.  The burden of low wages also falls disproportionately on people of color who are 42% of minimum wage earners despite being only 32% of the total workforce.

In addition to improving the lives of workers, increased wages will increase consumer spending, benefitting the economy overall.

At the national level, pending legislation would raise the minimum wage to $9.80 in three phases and then index it to inflation.  The federal legislation would also raise the sub-minimum wage paid for tipped workers (which has not been raised since 1991) from $2.13 in 85 cent increments until it reaches 70% of the minimum wage.

Recent community actions have drawn greater attention to this issue of low wages. For example, workers at places such as McDonalds and Taco Bell have been staging one-day walkouts to protest their low wages.  The New York Times described a worker, Ana Salvador, whose job is at a fast food restaurant inside the Smithsonian Institution’s Air & Space Museum, did not pay enough to support her four children.  She had to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to help her family.

While AB 10 is great progress for California, federal lawmakers need to raise the minimum wage and at all levels policy makers must institute meaningful change to wage policies to ensure workers nationwide can support themselves, their families and the economy.

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

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