Stand with Low Wage Workers: Support Legislation that Affirms their Dignity

The Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California (UUJMCA), through its Economic Justice Action Team, has endorsed bills pending in the Legislature that will honor workers whose work has for too long been treated as menial and unworthy.  The bills are described below. We urge you to take the action described to support this legislation soon, as the Legislative session will end this month.

The increased minimum wage will eventually bring low wage workers and their families closer to a more secure, more fulfilling life for themselves and their families. But wages are only one part of what makes up good jobs. There are other protections that most of us take for granted, but which are currently denied to marginalized workers. The Justice Ministry of California has endorsed the following pieces of legislation to address the conditions these workers labor under:

Equal Justice for Farmworkers
AB 1066 (Gonzalez) “The Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016.”

Farm workers, the critical link in our food security, have long been omitted from national labor protections, the result of a compromise made with Southern lawmakers when worker protections were first enacted during Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration. Too often the conditions under which they labor dishonor the work that they do. They toil under some of the harshest conditions of heat, cold, rain, and backbreaking work to plant, tend, and harvest our food. They get paid a pittance for their work, harking back to the old piece rate and tonnage pay of the 19th Century. It was not a surprise when unemployment offices posted farm labor openings that not one person applied for those wretched jobs. We need your help to secure long-denied justice for farm workers by passing AB 1066, which removes the vast inequality between farm workers and all other workers regarding hours, meal breaks, and overtime pay.

This bill is headed to the Senate floor. We need to speak out today for passage of this simple act of equity for a large and critical population. The opponents of the equity this bill provides say it will raise food prices. Perhaps. But we cannot exploit those who grow our food for a “cost saving” to us when that exploitation also means they cannot afford to eat what they have grown. That is the worst form of false economy.

Please click here to write your Senator to share your support for this bill, AB 1066, as offering basic economic justice in California.

We have this opportunity to end the decades-long exploitation of farm workers, the living heart of our agricultural system who produce our bounty while living in want. This is a critical moment for putting our faith into practice by standing with those who desperately need the justice we now can provide.
For the Economic Justice Action team of the UU Justice Ministry of California we thank you for giving your support for justice!

Protection for Janitorial Workers

Janitorial workers are often women working alone on the night shift.  These circumstances make sexual harassment and rape a real threat.  This bill would provide some much needed protection for these vulnerable workers. Click here to take action to protect California’s janitorial workers.

Here is the letter the Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California sent to the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, expressing its strong support for AB 1978.  This bill is also headed to the floor of the Senate.

The text of UUJM’s letter:

RE: AB 1978 (Gonzalez) – SUPPORT

Dear Chairman Lara:

The undersigned Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California (UUJMCA) is writing to express our strong support for AB 1978 (Gonzalez), which would require supervisors and employees in the property services industry to attend mandatory training on sexual harassment, sexual violence, and human trafficking. Additionally, the bill requires Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to establish a toll-free hotline for reporting complaints of workplace sexual harassment, sexual violence, and human trafficking and require workplace notice to employees of existing rights in this area. AB 1978 would also require all janitorial contractors in the state to register with DIR and implements additional requirements to enforce these provisions.

The Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California advocates for policies that promote justice based on the principles and values of Unitarian Universalists in this State. Our faith affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the right of all people to participate in a meaningful way in our communities which they are part of. We therefore honor the dignity of all who labor, whatever the nature of their work, and however menial society considers that work. Our economic relationships and institutions are judged by whether they protect or undermine their dignity and whether they foster the participation, development, and fulfillment of our neighbors. As Unitarian Universalists we stand with the most vulnerable of our neighbors –– all those who are left out or left behind, excluded or exploited, and are called to act to end the suffering they endure.

The conditions in the property services industry negate workers’ dignity in the most severe manner possible: sexual assault. A recent report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center reveals that certain conditions in the property services industry make workers more vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual violence. In particular, working in isolation increases a person’s vulnerability to sexual assault. Survey findings show that 85 percent of workers who were raped in the workplace reported working alone. The authors of the Report write that “janitors and security officers generally do not have day-to-day contact with anyone representing the employer, other than the supervisor who may be harassing them. Being isolated from co-workers and the public reduces the likelihood that anyone will intervene or serve as witnesses and allows supervisors to exert greater control over workers.” This report, along with the recent PBS documentary Rape on the Night Shift, demonstrates the need for greater regulation in the property service industry to ensure worker safety.

Wage theft is also a pervasive problem in this industry. The report points to survey findings showing that 32 percent of workers in the property services industry were paid less than minimum wage, and 80 percent were not paid the legally required overtime when they worked more than 40 hours a week. The economic exploitation of these workers is pervasive.

Factors like gender, ethnicity, and immigration status make workers in the property services industry particularly vulnerable to abuse. Survey data found that janitors and security officers are disproportionately workers of color and immigrants; more than 70 percent of contracted janitors were born outside the U.S. The threat of retaliation makes it less likely that these workers would report sexual harassment, sexual assault, wage theft, or other workplace misconduct.

The structure of this industry also makes it difficult to remedy abuse. The property service industry is one of five industries in California that operate almost exclusively through contracting and subcontracting. The other four are construction, garment manufacturing, farm labor, and long-term care. Basic labor violations plague these five industries; labor scholars and enforcement agencies consistently find that contracted labor frustrates wage enforcement. Contracting disrupts the direct relationship between employers and employees. Workers hired by contractors and subcontractors are often ignorant of the identity of, or have little access to, their true employer.

Across these five industries, all have a registry or licensing, except for property services. The laws regulating farm labor contractors now requires mandatory sexual harassment training for both employees and supervisors. Beyond these industries, the car wash industry, which employs a similar workforce, also requires employers to register with the state and pay a bond.

The state regulates other industries with similar risk factors, similar worker populations, and similar contracted labor. The abuse and lawlessness that are all-too common in the property services industry demand legal intervention to insure the dignity of these workers in their jobs. The time has come to regulate the property services industry. Only this regulation will protect these most vulnerable workers from the abuse and exploitation they are currently enduring. For this reason, the UUJMCA supports AB 1978, and urge the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment to support it as well.

Sincerely,
The Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California

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