A proposed California law, AB 257, could transform fast-food work for the better

From today’s Fortune Magazine:

A new policy strategy emerging in California holds the potential to transform fast-food work from some of the lowest-paying jobs in the state into good jobs, with solid wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Workers, employers, and policymakers in the state and around the country should pay close attention to this model, because setting and enforcing high standards in the fast-food industry is notoriously challenging—due to the industry’s franchising model, its numerous small employers with little ability to profitably raise standards, and its largely non-union workforce.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: Flags are flown at a car caravan and rally of fast food workers and supporters for passage of AB 257, a fast-food worker health and safety bill, on April 16, 2021 in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The rally was held outside of a McDonald’s location where a worker lodged public health complaints and a wage theft complaint. Some fast food workers are on strike in Los Angeles County today in support of the bill. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Fast food workers earn some of the lowest wages in California—$13.27 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—with only farm workers earning less in the state. Benefits are also meager: Researchers have estimated that just 13% of fast-food workers receive health benefits through their employer. A 2021 study found that more than two-thirds of the families of fast-food workers in California were enrolled in at least one public-safety net program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, at a public cost of $4 billion a year.

Compounding these problems is that nearly 9 in 10 fast food-workers, say they are subject to illegal working conditions—refused overtime pay, forced to do off-the-clock work, denied breaks, or placed in unsafe situations.

At the heart of the strategy to improve conditions for fast food workers in California is a “sectoral council,” which would bring together representatives of workers, employers, and public-sector regulators to make recommendations regarding minimum compensation, safety, scheduling stability, and training standards for the industry.  A hearing on the FAST Recovery Act—a bill that would establish the sectoral council—was held on April 22, and some think the bill could pass this year.

Sectoral councils and similar bodies have succeeded in helping raise working standards in a number of industries and regions. The state of New York used a wage board to bring together representatives of workers, employers, and the public to raise wages for fast-food workers;  the city of Seattle Domestic Workers Standards Board provides a forum for domestic workers, employers, private households, worker organizations, and the public to improve conditions for that sector; and a number of countries, including Australia and Britain, have used similar bodies in labor relations.

A fast-food sectoral council could form the backbone of fundamental change in the industry: It could not only raise standards for workers but also provide a way for workers as well employers—both franchisees and franchisors—to have a strong voice on the standards in their industry, while helping ensure standards are actually implemented and complied with.  These features are critical, because the structure of the fast-food industry makes it difficult to improve working conditions with traditional measures that have succeeded in other industries, such as actions by high-road employers that want to provide good compensation, the push of collective bargaining, or stand-alone legislated standards.

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California should pass AB1119 to protect the work rights of family caregivers

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

As travel ground to a halt in April 2020, the janitorial staff at a hotel chain were furloughed. When business resumed, everyone was called back — everyone, that is, except the mothers.

In a pandemic layoff at another company, only two people lost their jobs — one was a new mother, the other was on maternity leave.

When a woman complained about insufficient COVID-19 protection at a warehouse distribution center, her bosses retaliated by rescheduling her, making it nearly impossible for her to supervise her children’s remote schooling and do her job at the same time.

We see discrimination against parents at the UC Hastings Law School Center for WorkLife Law during normal times, but calls to our hotline increased sevenfold as COVID-19 took hold.

It’s no news that workers are vulnerable because of the weakness of American employment laws, but it may be news that their family responsibilities may put them at greater risk.

Employers prefer “ideal” workers, the kind whose home lives don’t impose on workdays or require even occasional flexibility. The pandemic upended the notion that cookie-cutter rigidity is a work prerequisite, but it also gave some bosses cover to stick with the old mindset, as the workers who’ve been calling us discovered.

California is considering legislation that would push such employers into new thinking.

Assembly Bill 1119, now under committee consideration, would amend the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act in two ways: It would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against people seeking, obtaining and holding work based on family caregiving responsibilities. And it would require employers to give regular caregivers — those with “direct and ongoing” responsibilities for children and other family members — simple accommodations, such as the right to arrive a few minutes late when school or childcare becomes unexpectedly unavailable, unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer.

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“An NDA Was Designed to Keep Me Quiet” – How Pinterest Undermines Equity in the Workplace

From today’s New York Times:

Last March, I sat in a lawyer’s conference room and watched as my corporate account at Pinterest was suddenly shut off. For almost two years, I had worked at the company as a public policy manager engaging with elected officials, civil rights groups and public health organizations. In an instant, I lost access to emails, documents and all internal systems. Months earlier, I filed complaints about wage discrimination and retaliation. Now the company was presenting me with no choice but to leave.

I thought about how I would explain to my colleagues, friends, family and prospective employers why I no longer had the high-profile job I loved. Worse, I had to find a way to have those conversations without violating the terms of a highly restrictive nondisclosure agreement (NDA), drawn up by Pinterest’s legal team, which was designed to keep me quiet.

Companies have long used NDAs to prevent competitors from poaching confidential information and good ideas. But they appear to increasingly be used to prevent workers from speaking out about instances of harassment, discrimination or assault they may face on the job.

During the #MeToo movement, those who came forward to report workplace abuses did so at great personal and legal risk. But it shouldn’t be this way. That is why I’mhelping lead the passage of a bill in California that, if signed into law, will allow victims of any kind of workplace discrimination to speak openly about the abuse they experience, regardless of the language in an NDA.

For a long time, I hesitated to speak about the issues I experienced at Pinterest. I didn’t want to be sued, and I hoped that the company would do the right thing and address the pay inequities and retaliation I faced. But it didn’t. When I eventually made the decision to come forward publicly, I, along with a courageous former colleague named Aerica Shimizu Banks, did so with the knowledge that we’d be covered, to some extent, under a 2019 law in California called CCP 1001.

Passed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the law provides protections for those breaking NDAs if they disclose factual allegations related to only three types of misconduct: sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination. But those protections did not include the race discrimination that I also faced as a Black woman. As such, only one part of my identity was protected, leaving me in a sort of legal limbo.

Recognizing the need for intersectional protection in this law, I decided to work withCalifornia State Senator Connie Leyva (the author of CCP 1001) to help draft and sponsor the Silenced No More Act along with the California Employment Lawyers Association and Equal Rights Advocates. If passed, the measure will allow victims of any type of covered workplace discrimination — on the basis of such categories as race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation — to speak honestly and openly about what they have faced, regardless of the language in a nondisclosure or nondisparagement agreement.

Read the complete article here.

Silicon Valley’s essential workers form new group to fight for work rights

From today’s San Jose Spotlight:

A group of six essential workers and labor leaders stood in front of McDonnell Hall in San Jose Wednesday—the same church labor activist Cesar Chavez started his now-iconic labor organizing more than 50 years prior.

The workers are looking to craft the future of the labor movement among essential workers for the next 50 years, starting with combating unfair treatment from employers, elected officials and corporations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They announced Wednesday the launch of a new initiative called the Essential Workers Council, a collective of 14 members from diverse professional fields in the South Bay, including medical workers, security, grocery workers, childcare, construction and education. The council has been established by Silicon Valley Rising, a collective of leaders who advocate for workers’ rights and affordable housing.

“As workers on the front lines of this crisis, we need to be the ones setting the agenda for recovery,” said Deo Agustin, a childcare worker and member of the new council. “We can’t let business leaders decide how things should be run.”

The group, with local labor leaders’ help, hopes to lobby elected leaders for more essential worker protections during and after the pandemic, such as higher wages, more widespread hazard payrent relief, stronger eviction protections and affordable childcare.

“Even as mostly Black and brown people put their lives at risk, dying at disproportionately higher rates, too many corporate executives and elected leaders have ignored their needs and their voices,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, director of Silicon Valley Rising, on Wednesday. “They call this work essential, but not the people, their families and our communities.”

The coronavirus has killed Black and Latino residents in the county at a far higher rate than other races. Latinos in particular make up 25% of the county’s population but account for 51% of cases and nearly 29% of deaths, according to county numbers. Those racial groups are overrepresented in essential work.

The council, frustrated by the lack of clear leadership from their employers to combat COVID-19, such as providing enough personal protective equipment and socially-distanced workspaces, spoke out about their experiences in working while living in fear that they would contract the coronavirus.

Read the complete article here.

California pays homage today to another American hero with a complex legacy

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Let me tell you about an American hero whom the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education might find, um, troublesome.

Cesar Chavez stands surrounded by reporters.

He opposed undocumented immigrants to the point of urging his followers to report them to la migra. He accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from a repressive government and gladly received an award from its ruthless dictator despite pleas from activists not to do so.

He paid his staff next to nothing. Undercut his organization with an authoritarian style that pushed away dozens of talented staffers and contrasted sharply with the people-power principles he publicly espoused. And left behind a conflicted legacy nowhere near pure enough for today’s woke warriors.

A long-dead white man? A titan of the business world? Perhaps a local politician?

Try Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder is the first person I always think about whenever there’s talk about canceling people from the past. He’s on my mind again, and not just because this Wednesday is his birthday, an official California holiday.

On Jan. 27, the San Francisco school board voted to rename 44 schools that it felt honored people who didn’t deserve the homage. Some of the condemned make sense — Father Junipero Serra, for instance, or Commodore John Sloat, the Navy officer who conquered California in the name of Manifest Destiny. Others are worthy of debate. Should we really champion Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence who also fathered multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings? Or John Muir, the beloved naturalist who didn’t think much of Black and Indigenous people?

The board’s move was rightfully met with disbelief and derision. In a year when parents are clamoring for schools to reopen, this is what board members spent their time on? And are kids really harmed if they attend a school named after Robert Louis Stevenson or Paul Revere?

Which brings us back to Chavez, the revered labor leader whose bust President Biden recently put on prominent display behind his desk in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Delano, Calif., to celebrate the state holiday with the Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers foundations, her office announced over the weekend.

Read the complete article here.

CA lawmakers propose slate of reforms for troubled unemployment agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

After a pair of scathing audits confirmed California’s troubled unemployment agency has been plagued by years of mismanagement, state lawmakers on Thursday announced a raft of new bills to speed up the payment of jobless benefits and reduce fraud.

The package of bills proposed by nine Assembly members is aimed at forcing change at the state Employment Development Department, which was criticized by the state auditor last week for delays in providing unemployment benefits despite having been warned of problems in the system a decade ago.

The proposals would allow benefits to be provided by direct deposit rather than issued with debit cards sent through the mail, would require the agency to check claimants against lists of prison inmates to prevent fraud and would establish an Office of the Claimant Advocate to help people with claim problems.

“Many of the issues EDD is facing today have been known since the Great Recession,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “Almost nothing was done to fix the problems or plan for another economic downturn.”

The EDD has been slow to respond to an unprecedented flood of unemployment benefit applications that resulted from the state shutting down much of the economy to stop the COVID-19 pandemic that began nearly a year ago.

Lawmakers said during a video news conference Thursday that many residents with legitimate unemployment claims have been harmed by an EDD decision to suspend 1.4 million claims in December to make sure they are not fraudulent.

Bay Area resident Laurel Carter joined the lawmakers’ event, saying her legitimate claim was suspended in mid-December with “no other explanation given.” She had difficulty uploading documents to prove her identity and was told she would have a five-hour wait to talk to a representative for help.

“I slept with my computer on for eight days just thinking that maybe in the middle of the night I would hear a ding and it would be someone that would speak to me,” Carter said. “I am now six weeks in without any payment.”

Though EDD Director Rita Saenz told lawmakers on Wednesday that she is committed to implementing improvements to the agency recommended by the state auditor and a strike team of government experts appointed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, skeptical lawmakers in both parties have introduced 20 bills in recent weeks in an attempt to more quickly address problems. They include legislation by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) that would provide claimants with theoption to receive their unemployment benefits via direct deposit to their bank accounts.

Read the complete article here.

CA’s unemployment fraud may top $9 billion, doubling estimate, expert warns

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

As an army of investigators tries to pin down the scope of unemployment benefit fraud in California, the head of a security firm working for the state is warning that payments of fraudulent claims could more than double the $4 billion previously estimated, and that a flood of those claims involve overseas crime rings.

At least 10% of unemployment claims may have been fraudulent before controls were installed in October, according to Blake Hall, founder and chief executive of the company ID.me., which has been hired by the state Employment Development Department to weed out fraud. A 10% fraud rate could total $9.8 billion of the benefits paid from March through September.

Much of the fraud in California and other states is coming from organized criminal gangs operating in some 20 foreign countries, including Russia, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey and Bulgaria, Hall said.

“When the Russians and the Nigerians and the Chinese are the players on the field, they are going to put up some points,” Hall told The Times. “This is a very sophisticated cyberattack that’s being run at scale.”

Hall’s firm was hired by the EDD to begin checking unemployment claims in October, and since then 30% of the claims it screened turned out to be fraudulent. Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 11, Hall said his firm blocked 463,724 fraudulent claims, which he said would represent more than $9 billion if the EDD had paid $20,000 on each claim.

The EDD has so far paid out $113 billion in unemployment benefits during the 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including $43 billion as part of an expedited — and less secure — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed.

State officials were recently warned by Bank of America, which is under contract with the EDD to issue debit cards to distribute benefits, that there is evidence that fraud could total more than $4 billion in California. A task force of county, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors is continuing an investigation to identify all of the fraud, which has also involved claims in the names of prison inmates.

Read the complete article here.

What Prop. 22’s defeat would mean for Uber and Lyft — and drivers

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

One way or another, the business of summoning a ride from your phone is likely to look different in California after Nov. 3.

The future of gig work could hinge on the success or failure of Proposition 22, called the App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative. Uber, Lyft and other companies bankrolling the initiative say it would improve workers’ quality of life, providing new benefits while preserving their autonomy. If passed, the measure would cement gig workers’ status as independent contractors, dealing a huge blow to a labor movement striving to bolster protections for workers at the margins.

Abstract illustration of an app-based driver in a car

Gig companies’ business models rely on hiring large numbers of workers cheaply as independent contractors to provide rides, deliver meals and groceries and perform other services. Assembly Bill 5, a state law passed in 2019, aimed to expand protections to these workers, requiring gig companies to reclassify them as employees.

Proposition 22 represents the companies’ efforts to battle that law and the obligations that come with it.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates (which was recently acquired by Uber) have jointly poured close to $200 million into the “yes” campaign, flooding the airwaves and their own apps with ads and making the measure the costliest in U.S. history.

At the heart of it all is a vicious fight to shape the prospects of hundreds of thousands of drivers and delivery workers across the state.

Here’s what you need to know.

What would happen if Proposition 22 passes?

For the companies sponsoring it, the short answer is: business as usual. For workers, it would bring some clarity, at a price.

The text of Proposition 22 assures drivers they would maintain flexibility as independent contractors. The measure offers some benefits similar to those conferred under AB 5, but significantly weaker.

Gig companies thus far have resisted compliance with AB 5, which went into effect Jan. 1. In early August, a judge ordered Uber and Lyft to convert their drivers to employees. At the 11th hour, the companies won a temporary stay of the order from a state appeals court, effectively pushing off the deadline until after voters have their say.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/Krp2r/6/

Uber and Lyft presented oral arguments before California’s 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday. The court has 90 days to decide whether it will uphold the lower-court ruling. But Proposition 22, if passed, would override protections granted by AB 5.

The measure instead would grant 120% of the minimum wage (state or local, depending on where the driver is). However, this minimum narrowly applies to “engaged time,” meaning the time a driver is on a trip with a passenger or en route to pick up a passenger. One study found drivers spend one-third of their time waiting between passengers or returning from trips, time that would not count toward the minimum wage.

Read the complete article here.

California Eases Off Legal Threats Over GOP Unauthorized Ballot Drop Boxes

From today’s NPR News Online:

The state of California appears to be backing off legal threats against the California Republican Party over its use of unauthorized ballot drop boxes.

On Monday, California’s secretary of state and attorney general sent a cease-and-desist order to the California GOP and several county party offices, ordering they remove unauthorized boxes to collect ballots, some of which were labeled “official.”

At a press conference Friday, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, both Democrats, didn’t announce any additional enforcement action against the party, saying the California GOP agreed to modify how they were collecting.

But while the California Republican Party agreed not to place unauthorized ballot drop boxes outdoors, leave drop boxes unattended or present them as official, the party said it will continue to accept ballots delivered by voters to local party offices and secure them in boxes attended by staff or volunteers.

Becerra and Padilla said they would continue to monitor the party’s activities closely and proceed with an investigation.

“The Republican Party’s deployment of these unofficial and deceptive ballot drop boxes were in violation of state law, and they created voter confusion,” Padilla said.

In a statement Friday on Twitter, the party’s spokesperson, Hector Barajas, said the California Republican Party made no concessions to the attorney general or secretary of state and denied doing anything wrong in the first place.

Friday’s press conference left a lot of ambiguity about how the party is continuing to deploy ballot collection boxes and whether or not using unauthorized drop boxes in any form violates California law.

Padilla and Becerra reiterated that while ballot collection is allowed, state rules require that whoever assists with delivering a ballot sign the envelope to record a chain of custody. But they also said ballots without that signature would not be rejected either.

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CA Republican Party Admits It Placed Misleading Ballot Boxes Around State

From today’s New York Times:

The California Republican Party has admitted responsibility for placing more than 50 deceptively labeled “official” drop boxes for mail-in ballots in Los Angeles, Fresno and Orange Counties — an action that state officials said was illegal and could lead to voter fraud.

The dark gray metal boxes have been popping up over the past two weeks near churches, gun shops and Republican Party offices, mostly in conservative areas of a deep-blue state, affixed with a white paper label identifying them as either an “Official Ballot Drop off Box” or a “Ballot Drop Box.”

To the average voter, they are virtually indistinguishable from drop-off sites sanctioned by the state, which are governed by strict regulations intended to prevent the partisan manipulation of ballots.

The actions of the largely marginalized state party come at a moment when Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a bitter national struggle over voting rights, with President Trump’s allies accusing Democrats in Minnesota and elsewhere of undermining the integrity of the electoral process by expanding absentee voting and other measures to increase ballot access.

On Monday, California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a cease-and-desist order to the state- and county-level Republican parties, ordering them to remove the boxes. They also urged voters who might have unknowingly dropped off their ballots in the receptacles to sign up with the state’s voter tracking website to ensure their vote is counted.

“Misleading voters is wrong regardless of who is doing it,” Mr. Padilla said in a conference call with reporters, adding that the boxes “are not permitted by state law.”

Mr. Becerra called the boxes “fake,” adding that it was “illegal to tamper with a citizen’s vote.” He warned that anyone “engaging in this activity” could be subject to criminal prosecution or civil action.

Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, said the party would continue to distribute the boxes, without adding any label identifying them explicitly as Republican ballot drops.

Mr. Barajas — who disclosed that Republicans were responsible for the boxes only after being bombarded by questions by reporters on Monday — said the party’s actions were legal because state law did not restrict “ballot harvesting,” a practice that allows businesses or other organizations to collect batches of completed ballots.

Read the complete article here.