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February 09, 2004

CA Businesses: Repeal Workers Rights Law

Backed by Arnie, California employers are trying to gut an innovative law passed last year that gives employees and labor groups greater ability to enforce labor laws in the courts.

Instead of having to wait until an underfunded labor commission looks into a violation, the law allows labor groups to take the case directly to court and collect 25% of the fine usually paid to the state. This is crucial because employers often get away with flagrantly violating labor laws because no one has the staff to prosecute them:

"This law basically privatizes what the state agencies are unable to do because they lack funding," said attorney York. She said the law is one more way "to ensure employers pay workers for all the hours that they work."

The labor commissioner's office counters that it does respond to complaints quickly, but some cases can take months.

"I think there are situations where we are struggling to get supporting documents," explained Dean Fryer, a spokesman for the state labor commissioner.

Testimony last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee showed that the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees the labor commissioner, has failed to effectively enforce violations.

The new law, which took effect Jan. 1, provides a new source of funding for the state's enforcement efforts. Plaintiffs who win cases keep one-fourth of the civil penalties. Another fourth goes to the labor commissioner's office, and one-half goes to the state general fund.

Passage of this law was one of the great achievements for workers rights in California last year and is a model that other states will hopefully copy.

Which is why the business groups want it repealed before it spreads-- you never know, you might actually have businesses forced to obey the law.

Posted by Nathan at February 9, 2004 09:40 PM