CA bill would hold companies accountable for abuse of temp workers

California lawmakers may soon be voting on a bill that would hold companies accountable for worker abuses committed by their labor contractors.

AB 1897 authored by Roger Hernandez has been amended and re-sent to the California General Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee that is chaired by Hernandez.

California like most other states has seen a resurgence in the use of temporary workers hired through labor contractors, a common practice during the late 19th Century.

A report from the University of California Berkeley Labor Center entitled “Problems with Temporary and Subcontracted Work in California” finds that nearly 300,000 Californians work for labor contractors that provide and supervise workers for other companies.

This precarious workforce provides essential labor in manufacturing, landscaping, agriculture, housekeeping, material handling, and other industries.

These so-called temporary workers lack the stability of a full-time job even though they may work full time for long stretches at a particular job.

These jobs are generally low-wage jobs that lack benefits as well as job security.

Temporary workers also can be the victim of employer abuses such as wage theft.

According to “Problems,” the US Labor Department recovered nearly $2 million in wages owed to temporary workers in 2008, the latest year for which data is available. The report goes on to say that the recovered amount understates the problem because of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hours Division’s poor track record during this time and the fact that wage theft often goes unreported.

In addition to these abuses, temp workers are more likely to be working in unsafe working conditions.

A report by Pro Publica finds that temporary workers in California are 50 percent more likely to be injured on the job than permanent workers.

When temp workers are cheated out of their pay or suffer injuries on the job, the company that hires them through a labor contractor may shirk their responsibility by claiming that the injured or abused worker doesn’t work directly for the company,

That’s what Soex West Textile Recycling claimed in 2009 when two of its temporary workers lost fingers in two separate machine accidents.

Had AB 1897 been effective at that time Soex would have been held responsible, and the workers would have been able to collect workers compensation through Soex.

The use of temp workers also makes it harder for workers to organize and take collective action to address grievances, which is why the California Labor Federation and other labor organizations such as the UFCW, SEIU, the Teamsters, and California Rural Legal Assistance, which helps farmworkers, are supporting AB 1897.

“Contract laborers work for the labor contractor, so at one site, there can be multiple employers. That results in split bargaining units, multiple elections, and a constantly divided workforce,” writes Caitlin Vega explaining why the California Labor Federation is supporting AB 1897.

Another reason that labor is supporting AB 1897 is that current law inadequately protects an ever-increasing and substantial community of workers.

“Current law is simply insufficient to protect workers’ rights in the shadows of the subcontracted economy,” writes Vega.  “Under existing law, a company can only be held responsible if a worker can prove joint employer status. This process is costly, slow, and difficult to navigate for most workers. It requires litigation, rather than providing a simple and straightforward rule. It is also easily manipulated by companies that have the labor contractor provide supervision on site to shield them from liability.”

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