Gov. Newsom Signs ERA-Sponsored, Worker-Backed Anti-Retaliation Bill
October 9. 2023
For Immediate Release
Oct 9, 2023
SB 497 (Smallwood-Cuevas) Will Protect Workers Who Speak Out Against Unequal Pay & Workplace Abuses
SACRAMENTO – Workers and advocates from the California Coalition for Worker Power (CCWP) and the Stronger California Advocates Network celebrated Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Senate Bill 497 (Smallwood-Cuevas) on Monday.
CCWP co-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. Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) also joined CCWP as Co-Sponsor.
“Far too often, workers suffer retaliation when they speak out about pay inequity and other workplace rights violations, which is especially harmful for low-wage workers,” said Jessica Ramey Stender, Policy Director & Deputy Legal Director of Equal Rights Advocates. “SB 497 is an important step forward to ensure that our laws provide meaningful protections.”
“Governor Newsom’s signature on SB 497 means workers will be empowered to report workplace violations without fear of retaliation. Through the partnership of the California Coalition for Worker Power and the courage of the many workers who came forward to tell their stories of abuse and exploitation, many thousands of workers will experience less fear and greater access to justice,” said Senator Smallwood-Cuevas, who authored the bill.
“Workers across the state, including restaurant workers, carwash workers, fast food workers, warehouse workers, retail workers, caregivers, and so many others who do vital work have re-written the rules that for far too long allowed bosses to bully workers into silence,” said Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) and Co-president of CCWP. “We are thrilled that Governor Newsom has joined legislators, led by Senator Smallwood-Cuevas, in taking a stand for worker justice.”
SB 497 means Beatriz Almazán, a worker who came to the Capitol this year with the organization TUWU (Trabajadores Unidos Workers United), can speak up about workplace abuses without fear of retaliation. Beatriz 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.”
“Our state’s labor laws only work when workers feel safe reporting violations without fear of retaliation. Governor Newsom’s signature on SB 497 is a strong declaration that California does not 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-president of CCWP.
The Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act will 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. Before SB 497, the law was 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 law 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 had been 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.
About Equal Rights Advocates
Equal Rights Advocates fights for gender justice in workplaces and schools across the country. Since 1974, they have been fighting on the front lines of social justice to protect and advance rights and opportunities for women, girls, and people of all gender identities through groundbreaking legal cases and bold legislation that sets the stage for the rest of the nation.