Two bills attacking the problem of wage theft, Assembly Bill (AB) 1003 and Senate Bill (SB) 727, were recently signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.
AB 1003 was championed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and specifies that intentional theft of wages or tips by an employer will be punishable as grand theft. SB 727 was authored by Senator Connie Leyva and aims to directly recoup unpaid wages, fringe benefits, and labor fund contributions through penalties and liquidated damages. The bill also includes a process by which contractors can avoid these actions by demonstrating that the violations have been mitigated.
“I’ve never understood why we don’t hold employers who steal from their workers responsible for their crimes, the same way we treat any other serious theft,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said in a press release from her office. “I’m hopeful this bill will finally change that and make bad actors think twice before treating wage theft like a simple business decision. This law sends a clear message: if you intentionally steal workers’ hard-earned wages, you can actually go to prison.”
Senator Leyva's description of her senate bill echoes the Assemblywoman's intentions, “Governor Newsom’s signature of SB 727 will further empower authorities to go after the bad actors in the construction industry, since they hurt both workers and the responsible contractors that play by the rules and make sure that their workers are paid on time. It is long overdue that we treat wage theft in the construction industry similar to how we already do in other industries," said Leyva in a press release from her office.
The new bills show that the State of California is taking the issue of wage theft very seriously. Earlier this year, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan formed the workplace justice unit to tackle the scourge of worker exploitation plaguing San Diego County. This all comes on the heels of reported data from DA Stephan's office estimating $10 million is lost to wage theft annually in the State of California.
As an influx of job opportunities loom on the horizon with President Biden's infrastructure package, California is preemptively drawing a line in the sand and saying that they will not allow this criminality to persist moving forward. By increasing enforcement of the laws, the loopholes contractors use will be closing. Unscrupulous contractors will soon learn that ripping their workers off is not worth the risk.
Read Senator Leyva's full press release at Senate.ca.gov
Read Assemblywoman Gonzalez's full press release at asmdc.org