State lawmakers finally consider pro-farmworker legislation

California lawmakers are considering legislation that will actually help farmworkers.

This doesn’t seem to be a standard political payoff to the UFW, but a real law that really protects farmworkers and not special interests.

The Opportunity to Work Act, introduced by Assembly Members Gonzalez and Kaira last week, would make employers offer extra work to existing employees before bringing on more employees of subcontractors.

If enacted, the bill, AB 5, would permit employees to file complaints against – and even sue – employers who hire more workers before offering extra hours to current employees.

With a law like this, who needs the UFW?

Under the proposed Opportunity to Work Act, employers will be forbidden to take any retaliatory action against workers who demand more time, including overtime.

Workers can take up to two-hour breaks without that time being considered an interruption of a shift.

“An employer shall offer additional hours of work to an existing employee who, in the employer’s reasonable judgment, has the skills and experience to perform the work before hiring any additional employees or subcontractors,” according to the legislation.

AB 5 appears to undermine union agreements by not requiring employers to pay overtime for those extra hours, even if mandated under a collective bargaining contract. According to the bill, “employer shall not be required to offer an employee additional work hours if the employer would be required to compensate the employee with overtime compensation under any law or under a collective bargaining agreement.”

Definition of retaliation

The Opportunity to Work Act forbids employers from retaliating in any way against workers who seek extra hours, or who complain about not being given extra hours before a new worker is hired. Here’s the exact text of that part of AB 5:

“‘Retaliation’ shall mean any form of intimidation, threat, reprisal, harassment, discrimination, or adverse employment action, including discipline, discharge, suspension, transfer or assignment to a lesser position in terms of job classification, job security, or other condition of employment, reduction in pay or hours or denial of additional hours, informing another employer that the person has engaged in activities protected by this section, or reporting or threatening to report the actual or suspected citizenship or immigration status of an employee, former employee, or family member of an employee to a federal, state, or local agency because the employee or former employee exercises a right under this section.”