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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 today’s California State Assembly 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, health and safety violations, or wage theft.

“By passing SB 497, California has taken a significant step toward ensuring that workers can report workplace violations without fear of retaliation. This legislation reinforces our commitment to fairness, equality, and the well being of our workforce. Let’s now await Governor Newsom’s signature to make it a reality,” said Senator Smallwood Cuevas, who authored the bill.

“Today’s passage of SB 497 is a testament to California’s commitment to worker justice. We’ve listened to the voices of those who’ve suffered in silence for far too long. This bill is a beacon of hope for all workers who seek to be heard and protected,” said Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who championed the bill in the Assembly.

“Workers across the state, including restaurant workers, car wash workers, fast food workers, warehouse workers, retail workers, caregivers, and so many others who do vital work, have spent the year educating legislators about the reality of bosses bullying workers into silence,” said Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) and co-chair of CCWP. “We are thrilled that legislators listened and took a stand for worker justice by passing SB 497, and we are deeply grateful for the leadership and commitment of Senator Smallwood-Cuevas.”

Beatriz Almazán, a worker who came to the Capitol this year with the organization TUWU (Trabajadores Unidos Workers United), cleaned a movie theater in San Francisco. She works hard to send money back to her daughter in Mexico, but when she spoke out about being asked to do the job of four people, she was sent to another theater two hours away to work and her wages were withheld. When she talked to the manager about the missing wages, she was fired. “I’m willing to work hard but I’m not willing to be exploited,” said Almazán. “With the rents so high and our families hungry I understand why many workers are afraid to speak out, but I know that we can only change that by coming together and speaking with a strong voice, like we did this year.”

“The state Assembly declared today that California will no longer tolerate employers punishing, silencing or intimidating workers to keep them from reporting workplace violations or pay inequity,” said Sheheryar Kaoosji, Executive Director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and co-chair of CCWP. “Now, exploited workers are counting on Governor Newsom to sign SB 497, because our state’s labor laws will only work when workers feel safe reporting violations without fear of retaliation.”

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, a health and safety issue, 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.

Threats of retaliation have chilling effects in workplaces where employers maintain an unfair imbalance of power over workers’ jobs and earnings. A 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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TheCalifornia 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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