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  • Writer's pictureDallas Fowler

SB 497 Passes CA Senate

California Coalition for Worker Power

For Immediate Release May 30, 2023

Contact: Mike Roth, 916.813.1554 Maria Elena Jauregui, 818.355.5291 (Spanish-language)

California State Senate Moves Landmark Anti-Retaliation Bill Forward

SB 497 (Smallwood-Cuevas) Protects Workers Who Speak Out Against Unequal Pay & Workplace Abuses

Sacramento, CA – Workers and advocates from the California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP) celebrated today’s California State Senate vote in favor of SB 497 (Smallwood-Cuevas). CCWP sponsored the Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act after amassing evidence that workers are routinely harassed, bullied, or fired for reporting unequal pay or wage theft. “Employers too often wield their workplace power to silence workers from speaking out about workplace violations or pay inequity; that has to change if California's labor laws are to have a meaningful impact in improving workers’ lives,” said Sheheryar Kaoosji, Executive Director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and co-chair of CCWP. “Today the California Senate took an important step toward correcting this power imbalance and empowering workers to come forward and speak out about abuses, hazards, and unequal pay - without fear of retaliation.”

Ilsi experienced retaliation when she started asking her boss at Subway questions about tips, sick days and overtime that she was not receiving. "After I decided to speak up and question my boss about my tips, she told me she could no longer pay me what she was paying me before, and that now she was going to pay me minimum wage,” Ilse said. “This, of course, affected my emotional and mental stability because everything changed for me from one day to the other.” Later, Ilse was fired when she started talking to other Subway workers who faced similar issues.

The Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act would allow the Labor Commissioner to presume retaliation has occurred when the employer punishes or terminates a worker within 90 days of the worker’s complaint of a labor violation or unequal pay. Current law is stacked in favor of employers, as workers have a difficult time establishing retaliation in even the most blatant of cases without direct access to the employer’s records. The bill will give employers the opportunity to rebut the presumption by providing evidence that their action was not retaliatory. The “rebuttable presumption” framework is currently found in many parts of California’s labor-related statutes, including cases of immigration-related retaliation and sick leave-related retaliation, but is missing in the core areas of wage-and-hour violations, health and safety, and equal pay.

“Current law puts the burden of proof on workers to prove retaliation over reports of wage theft, health and safety violations, or violations of California’s unequal pay laws; that’s absurd when you consider employers control workers’ access to records needed to prove their case,” said Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) and co-chair of CCWP. “Today the Senate agreed: SB 497 strikes the right balance by empowering workers to come forward and establishing a fair process for employers to prove their case.”

Threats of retaliation have chilling effects in workplaces where employers maintain an unfair imbalance of power over workers’ jobs and earnings. A recent survey of 1,000 California workers found that the threat of retaliation was enough to stop more than 40 percent of workers from seeking remedy for unjust and illegal conditions. An even greater share of Black and Latinx workers - 55 percent and 46 percent, respectively - say the risks of speaking out are too high, making preventing retaliation a critical equity issue. (These findings were corroborated in focus groups with members of CCWP organizations.)

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The California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP) is a coalition of worker centers, unions, and worker advocacy organizations dedicated to ensuring that every worker in California has the power to come together and improve their work conditions and their communities.

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Landmark Anti-Retaliation Bill Moves to Governor's Desk

SB 497 (Smallwood-Cuevas) Protects Workers Who Speak Out Against Unequal Pay & Workplace Abuses Sacramento, CA – Workers and advocates from the California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP) celebrated


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