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  • Jorge Plascencia

Hundreds of Workers & Advocates Rally at State Capitol to Stop Corporate Wage Theft

Justice for All Workers” Agenda: protect & strengthen PAGA,fund worker outreach and education partnerships & economic equity research

New Harvard Report: More than 91% of service workers experience wage theft or other violations of their labor rights; few will ever receive justice 

Sacramento, CA – Hundreds of workers and advocates from around California convened at the State Capitol on Wednesday, rallying support for a “Justice for All Workers” agenda. Their push comes as corporations led by the Chamber of Commerce have launched an all-out attack on workers’ rights, aiming to repeal the landmark Private Attorneys General Act on the November ballot.  

“When workers experience at least $2 billion in wage theft annually and only two percent of these dollars are ever recovered, it’s clear that California must do better to protect our lowest-wage workers,” said CCWP Co-President Sheheryar Kaoosji. “Today hundreds of workers traveled for hours to deliver their message directly to lawmakers: stop corporate wage theft!”  

To ensure that California’s strong-on-paper labor laws translate into meaningful protections for workers, the California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP) is leading a push to protect and strengthen PAGA and fund a successful model of outreach partnerships that educate workers on their rights.  

“For years, my employer illegally misclassified me, treating me as an independent contractor in order to pay me below minimum wage, deny me overtime, and make me pay exorbitant and illegal fees just to continue working. When I got hired, they forced me to sign an arbitration clause to deny me the right to go to court. Without PAGA, I wouldn’t have been able to fight this unfair agreement and hold my employer accountable for taking advantage of me. I’m fighting to protect PAGA so other workers have the same shot at justice,” said Melissa Covarrubias, a commercial and industrial building cleaner in San Diego.

Assemblymembers Liz Ortega and Ash Kalra, along with Senator Maria Elena Durazo, joined workers rallying outside the Capitol today, echoing their support for CCWP’s Justice for All Workers Agenda which includes:

  • Fighting back against corporate interests who are pushing a November ballot initiative to repeal the Private Attorneys’ General Act (PAGA). Their measure would block workers’ access to justice through the courts and hamper state agencies’ enforcement of labor laws.   

  • Allowing courts to order companies who break labor laws to immediately come into compliance, so scofflaws can’t simply treat fines as a cost of doing business while they continue to exploit workers. AB 2288 (Kalra) strengthens PAGA by giving courts an additional tool to protect workers from further violations. 

  • Empowering workers to know their rights by passing SB 1030 (Smallwood-Cuevas). The bill would strengthen state-community partnerships that have helped millions of workers learn about and use laws protecting their workplace rights and health and safety. The success of California’s Workplace Outreach Program stems from its “trusted messenger” model that reaches workers in their language. 

  • Reject proposed state budget cuts to UC Labor Centers, a vital research hub focusing on data to inform state policy on economic equity, racial and immigrant justice. 

“At the same time corporations are spending millions of dollars on a campaign to dismantle PAGA, we are learning that wage theft and the threats of retaliation when workers come forward are even greater than we imagined,” said Assemblymember Kalra. “It’s clear we need to do more to shine a light on the violations corporations are working so hard to keep in the dark. AB 2288 gives courts stronger tools to enforce the law and deliver justice to workers who’ve been wronged.”  

A new Harvard University report underscores why it is so critical workers know their rights and can enforce them through PAGA. The report, “Compliance and the Complaint Gap: Understanding California Labor Standards Violations in the Service Sector," is based on a new survey of over 1,000 hourly workers in the service sector in California.  Researchers found:

  • Almost all hourly service workers surveyed – 91% – experienced at least one kind of labor standards violation in the last year, with large shares (46%) experiencing Fair Labor Standards Act violations such as being denied overtime pay or being paid less than the minimum wage. Large shares of workers also experienced paid sick leave violations (41%), paid rest break violations (58%), and meal break violations (43%).  

  • Yet just 23% of these workers made a report about these violations and only a tiny fraction of those reported turning to local, state, or federal authorities, with the vast majority turning to their own employer.  


  • It’s understandable why workers are hesitant to report violations – workers who came forward were unlikely to have their violations addressed and instead experienced retaliation. 

“UCLA Labor Center researchers uncovered a serious threat to workers’ ability to thrive and  California's economic well-being: $2 billion in wages are stolen from workers each year but  only 2% of that money is returned to the workers who earned it,” UCLA Labor Center Director Saba Waheed said. “California must not defund UC Labor Centers just when we need to be doing more to shine a light on wage theft and other obstacles to justice for all workers.”  Waheed called for legislators to reject a proposed cut of $13 million annually to support labor research and education at the University of California, which houses nine research institutes dedicated to labor research and labor studies.

“For years, I worked 70 hours per week without meal or rest breaks but only received 45 hours of pay,” shared Maria Bernal, a worker at Jack in the Box in Sacramento. “In 2021 I twisted my ankle and had to stay home from work for the day. My manager told me I wasn’t allowed to take days off and demanded I resign. My children and I spent the next 6 months homeless. If I had received overtime pay for the extra hours I worked, I would have had savings to prevent that. I wish my story was unique but it’s not. PAGA works and workers like me need it to ensure we have recourse against greedy employers.”


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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