Stronger California 2021 results: 4 new laws for CA women & low-paid workers


Monika Dymerski, Policy Fellow

This legislative session, the Stronger California Advocates Network, chaired by Equal Rights Advocates, made important progress on policies that will advance economic security for women and families across the state. 

The Stronger California Agenda provides concrete policy solutions to address the fact that far too many women and families in California face obstacles to enjoying economically secure lives, such as wage theft, health and safety workplace hazards, and lack of access to affordable menstrual products. California has the fifth largest economy in the world, but one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, which disproportionately harms women and children. Sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workplace, as well as retaliation for speaking out, continue to push women out of jobs. Child care access is lower in California than in other states. Women are more likely to work in low-wage jobs and are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work in virtually every job sector. These challenges have been magnified and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting economic crisis. Therefore, policies that address the myriad obstacles threatening women and families are now more important than ever, and it is critical that women are centered in economic recovery efforts.

This year, we achieved important progress on our 2021 Stronger California Advocates Network Legislative Agenda in partnership with our 70+ Stronger California partner organizations. Our 2021 bill and budget priorities address the ongoing challenges faced by women, low-wage workers, and other vulnerable communities in the wake of COVID-19 and continue to advance policies to bring about broader structural change.

 

We are thrilled to share that the Stronger California priorities below were all passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Newsom: 

  • Garment Worker Protection Act – SB 62 (Senator Durazo)

This bill combats rampant wage theft in the garment worker industry, a workforce predominantly made up of low-wage immigrant women. It will expand and strengthen enforcement of wage theft liability in the garment manufacturing industry, ensuring that retailers cannot use layers of contracting to avoid responsibility for wage theft. By eliminating the pay-per-piece rate in the garment industry while still allowing bonus and incentive payments, this bill will ensure that workers are paid for all time spent working. (Co-sponsored by the Garment Worker Center, California Labor Federation, Bet Tzedek, and Western Center on Law and Poverty)

  • Health & Safety for All Workers Act  – SB 321 (Senator Durazo) *ERA Co-sponsor

This bill advances health and safety protections for domestic workers, the vast majority of whom are low-wage immigrant women who have traditionally been excluded from basic employment protections under state and federal law. It will require the Division of Occupational Safety and Health within the California Department of Industrial Relations to convene an advisory committee that includes domestic workers, to make recommendations to protect the health and safety of household domestic workers, and to develop voluntary industry-specific occupational health and safety guidance for the purpose of educating domestic workers and their employers. (Co-sponsored by California Domestic Workers Coalition, Worksafe, Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California, California Immigration Policy Center, and Hand-in-Hand Domestic Employers Network)

  • Silenced No More Act – SB 331 (Senator Leyva) *ERA Co-sponsor

This bill will expand existing laws, which prohibit non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in employment settlement agreements involving sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sex discrimination, to ensure that workers can also speak out about other forms of discrimination and harassment, including racism and ableism. It will also expand the existing prohibition on overly broad non-disparagement clauses in employment agreements to cover workers who are required to sign these clauses as part of severance agreements. (Co-sponsored by California Employment Lawyers Association)

  • Menstrual Equity for All Act – AB 367 (Assemblymember C. Garcia)

This bill will require all public schools from grades 6 to 12 to stock the schools’ restrooms with an adequate supply of free menstrual products. It will also require the California State University (CSU) system and each community college district to stock an adequate supply of free menstrual products at at least one designated and accessible central location on each campus, and encourage the University of California (UC), independent institutions of higher education, and private postsecondary educational institutions to do the same.

The Stronger California Advocates Network is also proud to have supported several important budget wins this year, including: 

  • Child Care: 
    • An estimated 120,000 new child care spaces for families on the child care waiting list.
    • Increase in child care subsidy payments for all child care providers, including family, friend, and neighbor providers who historically earned less than $2/hour. 
    • Freezing family fees (share of cost parents pay for state and federally funded child care) from July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022.
  • Eradicating Poverty & Building Assets
    • School Meals for All: Commencing in school year 2022–23, public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools serving students in grades K–12 are required to provide two meals free of charge (breakfast and lunch) during each school day to students requesting a meal, regardless of their free or reduced-price meal eligibility.
  • SSI/SSP funding allocations 

 

The following Stronger California priorities were made into two-year bills, and we look forward to pushing them across the finish line in 2022:

Fair Pay, Job Opportunities, and Workplace Justice

  • AB 995 (Gonzalez)

This bill would expand the state’s paid sick leave program to provide an employee with no less than 40 hours (or five days) of paid sick leave by their 200th calendar day of employment.

Child Care

  • Child Care Family Fees – AB 92 (Reyes)

This bill alleviates the burdens that families face in paying for child care by creating an equitable sliding scale for family fees and waiving fees for all families until October 31, 2023. 

Family-Friendly Workplaces

  • Chosen Family – AB 1041 (Wicks) *ERA Co-sponsor

This bill would expand the definition of “family member” for purposes of family and sick leave to allow workers to take time off to care for a “designated person,” a crucial step to inclusive workplace policies for LGBTQ+ families.

  • Protecting Caregivers from Discrimination – AB 1119 (Wicks) *ERA Co-sponsor

This bill would prohibit discrimination against employees based on their family responsibilities and ensure working families have access to reasonable accommodations to deal with school and care closures.

  • Bereavement Leave- AB 95 (Low) *ERA Co-sponsor

This bill would provide 3 days of unpaid, job protected bereavement leave for employees who work for companies with 25 or fewer employees and 10 days of unpaid bereavement leave for employees who work for companies with more than 25 employees. 

Eradicating Poverty and Building Assets

  • Housing Protections for Survivors – AB 1493 (Rubio)

This bill would strengthen California’s existing protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, or elder or dependent adult abuse. It will close loopholes in current eviction protections to ensure that no survivor can be evicted because of acts of abuse committed against them and expand the documentation that can be provided to demonstrate that the individual is a survivor of abuse and to assert the eviction defense.

  • Protecting Survivors from Economic Abuse – SB 373 (Min)

This bill would protect survivors of economic abuse from the consequences of debts incurred in their name without their knowledge or consent in two specific ways: It would prevent debt collection against abuse survivors when they can demonstrate that the debt was incurred as a result of economic abuse, and it would prevent consumer credit reporting agencies from reporting these debts.

 

The following bill was held in committee:

  • SB 691 (Rubio)

This bill would permanently increase the California Earning Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) for workers excluded from the federal EITC, and extend eligibility for the Young Child Tax Credit (YCTC).

Only 1 Stronger California priority was vetoed:

  • Increasing the Wage Replacement Rate – AB 123 (Gonzalez)

This bill would have increased the wage replacement rate for Paid Family Leave to 90% of wages, making it possible for millions of additional Californians to be there for their families when it matters most, especially low-paid workers. Although the bill was vetoed,  ERA along with our Stronger California partners will continue to pursue increased paid family leave benefits to ensure that all workers are able to access this program and be there for their loved ones. 

 

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