Farmworker union bill may impact Valley more than other new laws

California also passes protections for consumers, employees, abortions, transgender youth and new penalties for misinformation, sex trafficking, illegal gun sales

CALIFORNIA –  Each year, California signs hundreds of bills into law, many of them taking effect the following year. 2022 was no different and laws taking effect in 2023 will touch every aspect of life for Californians from crossing the street to crossing out fur sales and from observing new paid holidays to new wage transparency laws.

The new law that will likely affect the Valley more than any other is AB 2183, regarding farmworker unionization. The law expands options for farm workers to unionize through an offsite voting system so workers don’t have to be seen participating at the workplace and avoid possible intimidation from employers. Originally the bill allowed for a vote-by-mail system but Governor Gavin Newsom only agreed to sign the bill after labor groups agreed to process ballots through the state’s agriculture labor relations board through a process known as “majority sign up” or “card check.” The groups also agreed to cap the amount of union elections at 75 for the entire state until 2028. 

“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” Gov. Newsom said. “Our state has been defined by the heroic activism of farmworkers, championed by American icons like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong. California is proud to stand with the next generation of leaders carrying on this movement.”

In August, hundreds of farm workers and supporters of AB 2183, marched 335 miles through the Central Valley from Delano to the Capital. They began on Aug. 3 and ended their journey on Aug. 26 on farmworker appreciation day. They marched along the same route Cesar Chavez took decades before. There were 25 permanent marchers who hiked all 335 miles from start to finish. Volunteers joined along the way, for a few miles or a few days to show their support. 

Marchers stopped each night in a different location where each city fed individuals and provided them with lodging. They marched for 24 days, anywhere from 9 to 20 miles each day, only to reach the capital and hear words of what sounded like defeat on Aug. 26. Newsom did veto the bill, but did say he would not sign it until concerns over voting integrity were addressed. 

Farm workers and supporters of the bill celebrated its signing as a huge win for equalized rights for farm workers. Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio was one of the supporters who began the march with farm workers as they departed for their journey.

“This was a very important bill for the United Farm Workers, and many allied organizations across the Central Valley and across California, who want farmworkers to have a better or safer way of voting in union elections,” Osorio said. 

California agricultural groups said the bill and supplemental agreement represents a dramatic departure from rules protecting farm employees from coercion in union votes.

“We’re disappointed,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson. “‘Card check is simply devoid of that privacy and the right to freely decide how you want to be represented based on what’s best for you and your family.”

Bryan Little, chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service and Farm Bureau’s director of labor affairs, told the California Farm Bureau’s Ag Alert publication that many agricultural employers already offer “a solid package of benefits,” including 401 (k) plans and other programs for workers.

The Farm Bureau is also partnering with the National Immigration Forum in a program that covers costs of citizenship application services and counseling for eligible employees of more than 30,000 Farm Bureau members.

Only a small fraction of California’s estimated 500,000 agricultural workers are unionized. Little said employees with positive working relationships with agricultural businesses are unlikely to want to give up the 3% of their salaries in union dues for benefits they already have.

“The fact is employers, including ag employers, may get a union if they ignore simple things that might cause their employees to seek help from outsiders,” Little said. “If you, as their employer, show them you already give them benefits, respect, flexibility, good work-life balance and solid communications, union agents won’t get the time of day from your employees.”

Consumers

Fur Ban: California became the first state to ban the sale and manufacture of new fur products with the passage of AB 44. Signed into law in 2019, the bill bans residents from selling or making clothing, shoes or handbags with animal fur with exemptions for religious or tribal purposes. The bill also excludes the sale of leather, cowhides, wool, sheep and goat skin, dog and cat fur and anything preserved through taxidermy. 

Equal Pricing: If you think women’s clothing is vastly overpriced, especially when compared to similar clothing for men, California agrees. Under AB 1287, California businesses are no longer allowed to charge a higher price on women’s products, known as the “Pink Tax.” The bill bans companies from charging two different prices for similar products based on gender. Prices can still vary if the time to produce one product takes substantially longer, is more difficult or more costly. Violators could face serious fines up to $10,000 for the first violation, and a civil penalty of $1,000 for each subsequent violation. The total civil penalty can’t exceed $100,000.

Crime and Cops

Sex Trafficking: Hotels and motels will now be under more scrutiny due to new laws related to sex trafficking. Under AB 1788, lodging establishments can now face civil penalties if a supervisory employee benefits from allowing or fails to report sex trafficking activity to law enforcement, the National Human Trafficking Hotline or an appropriate victim service organization. 

Prostitution: However, if a prostitute is working for themselves they can no longer be arrested and cited for loitering in a public place with the “intent to commit prostitution.” SB 357 was supported by LGBTQ advocates who said police were targeting transgender women and women of color for where they were standing and how they were dressed.

Background checks: Unless conducted by law enforcement, background checks will no longer include felonies unless they are for serious or violent crimes and a registered sex offender. SB 731 does not erase a person’s criminal record but does shield their past from employment background checkers if the offender requests they be sealed from the public. The bill does not allow offenders to withhold their criminal background if they are asked a direct question by a potential employer. The law won’t take effect until July 1, 2023.

Peace Officers: The people enforcing these laws, police officers, won’t have to share all of the details about their past as well. SB 960 removes the requirement that peace officers in California be a citizen of the United States or a permanent resident who has applied for citizenship. 

Public Meetings/Officials

Public Office: There’s an old saying that those who don’t vote aren’t doing anything to solve the problem. But now they can run for office. AB 1925 removes the requirement of being a registered voter for eligibility for public office in California, as long as the person meets all other citizen and residency requirements for the office. 

Public Meetings: Those who want to complain about their officials in public will have to be more careful about what they say and how they say it at public meetings. SB 1100 allows public officials to remove an individual from a meeting for being disruptive. It defines disrupting as behavior that “disturbs, impedes, or renders infeasible the orderly conduct of the meeting. Examples are failure to comply with meeting procedures, such as going over time during public comment or shouting from the audience, any sort of violence or making any threats of violence. The presiding official, or their designee, must provide a warning to the disruptive individual before ordering their removal. 

Reproductive Health

Abortion Rights: In its effort to become a safe haven state for abortion and transgender rights, California has passed several laws protecting women and practitioners from prosecution for abortions and transgender youth from surgeries and other gender-affirming care from prosecution both from within the state and outside of the state. AB 2223 is among a dozen new laws intended to increase abortion access in California. It protects a pregnant person who chooses to end a pregnancy from prosecution, even if the abortion is self-induced or happens outside the medical system. It also abolishes the requirement that coroners investigate stillbirths and protects someone who helps a pregnant person end their pregnancy voluntarily from criminal or civil liability.

SB 1375  allows nurse practitioners and certified nurse-midwives to perform first-trimester abortions without a doctor’s supervision. The law also prohibits those practitioners from being liable for civil damages and from being denied medical privileges or licensing. 

Transgender Protections: AB 107 aims to prevent other states from punishing children who come to California for transgender surgeries and gender-affirming care defined as “medically necessary health care that respects the gender identity of the patient, as experienced and defined by the patient.” The bill’s language includes hormone therapy to suppress secondary sex characteristics and other treatments “to align the patient’s appearance or physical body with the patient’s gender identity.” The bill would block out of state subpoenas, stop California health providers from sharing information with out-of-state entities and give California courts authority to make custody determinations for children in California specifically to seek gender affirming care.

Contraception: Known as the Contraceptive Equity Act, SB 523 expands protections related to reproductive health decision-making. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act’s list of protected categories now includes “reproductive health decision-making,” which includes the “use or access of a particular drug, device, product, or medical service for reproductive health.” This means that employers are forbidden from discriminating against an employee or applicant based on their use of birth control methods.

COVID-19 Laws

Misinformation: Much like the virus and its variants, COVID-19 laws will continue to linger long after the pandemic persists. One of the most impactful new laws will be statewide crackdown on medical practitioners passing on COVID-19 misinformation. Under AB 2098, doctors who spread incorrect claims about the virus, such as the ineffectiveness of vaccines and untested treatments for infected patients, could face “unprofessional conduct” changes and have their license put under probation or suspended by the Medical Board of California. The law is being challenged in court by two anti-vaccine doctors and conservative activists and the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union. 

Exposure Notice: AB 2693 allows employers to post a notice of potential exposure instead of being required to directly communicate with each individual employee. The notice must contain the dates when the infected worker was at the worksite and must be posted for 15 days. It also extended the sunset on requirements to notify the local health department of exposures until Jan. 1, 2024. Similarly, AB 1751 extended the requirement to report COVID-19 cases to their workers compensation insurance carriers until Jan. 1, 2024.

Traffic Laws

Jaywalking: Pedestrians can no longer be cited for jaywalking under AB 2147. The bill, known as the Freedom to Walk Act, says jaywalking is only an offense when a reasonably careful person would realize there is an immediate danger of being hit.

Bicycle Safety: AB 1909 requires drivers to change lanes while passing a bicyclist wherever possible. Previously, motorists were required to give people on bikes a 3-foot margin while passing, but this rule did not provide enough of a buffer zone for bikes and was difficult to enforce. “The change lanes to pass provision will make it easier for police to cite drivers who fail to give bikes room for safety,” according to the state. The bill also expands access to some bikeways where e-bikes were previously banned. However, the law still allows the Department of Parks and Recreation to prohibit them from “equestrian, hiking and recreational trails.”

E-bikes: In an effort to promote greener forms of transportation, news laws will give pedestrians the ultimate right of way, give bicyclists a wider buffer zone and broaden access for e-bikes. 

Wages/Paid Leave and Holidays

Fast Food Labor Council: Fast food workers could have made as much as $22 per hour in 2023 under a new regulatory council signed into law in the fall. That scenario is highly unlikely, though, after California franchises have submitted a measure on the November 2024 ballot to block the law. AB 257, signed on Labor Day, would create a council to oversee labor conditions in the fast food industry. The council would be made up of “representatives from labor and management,” according to the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom, and be in charge of wages, hours, discrimination policies and working conditions. Fast food chains are defined as restaurants with 100 locations or more in the nation. The bill set a capstone on wages at $22 per hour. McDonald’s, In-N-Out and other franchises announced in December they had turned in more than 1 million signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The initiative would need a little more than 623,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

Minimum Wage: California’s minimum wage will rise to $15.50 per hour for all employers, the last and largest increase of the state’s law to ratchet up to at least $15 per hour under SB 2 passed in 2016. In 2022, the minimum wage in California was $14 an hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees and $15 an hour for employers with more than 25 employees. Minimum wage was originally set to increase to $15 on Jan. 1, 2023 but was increased by another 50 cents per hour due under the law’s adjustment for inflation. Employers in 30 cities are already paying a local minimum wage of $15 per hour last year and six cities, including Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Hollywood increased their local minimum wages to more than $15.50 last summer. 

Affordable Housing: Housing developers are allowed to hire nonunion workers for affordable housing projects as long as they pay prevailing wages and offer health benefits. AB 2011 streamlines zoning and permit approvals for infill housing projects in commercial areas, such as abandoned strip malls, empty office parks and vacant parking lots, as long as 15% of the housing will be affordable rental units. The bill will take effect on July 1, 2023.

Pay Scale Posting: Companies with at least 15 employees are now required to post pay scales in job postings in order to be transparent about wages with its workers. SB 1162 also requires companies with 100 or more employees to include “the median and mean hourly rate for each combination of race, ethnicity, and sex within each job category” in pay data reports they’re already required to submit to the state.

Family Leave: Employees can now take a leave of absence to care for someone other than a family member. AB 1041 adds a “designated person” to the list of people for which an employee can use paid sick leave to care for under the California Family Rights Act and the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act. The list currently includes a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild and sibling. The employer can limit the employee to one designated person within a 12-month period. 

Bereavement Leave: Another law, AB 1949, makes it illegal for private businesses with at least five employees to deny employees up to five days of unpaid bereavement leave for the death of a family member, including a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner or parent-in-law. The employee must have worked at the company for at least 30 days. There are separate requirements for public employers. 

New, New Year: A new state holiday will observe the Lunar New Year as a paid holiday. Lunar New Year, a major celebration in many Asian cultures, is typically observed at the end of January or the beginning of February, when the first new moon of the year appears. The date of the holiday will vary by year, but will typically correspond with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Others

Gun lawsuits: Gunmakers who manufacture or sell guns banned in California will leave themselves open to a host of new lawsuits. SB 1327 allows private citizens to sue firearm manufacturers and dealers in civil court for a minimum of $10,000 if they sell assault weapons or “ghost guns” in the state. Ghost guns are sold online as kits and can be assembled with minimal effort. They can be obtained with minimal effort as well because the guns are sold without background checks and do not contain serial numbers making them difficult to trace and easy for criminals to get their hands on. The bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2023. A related bill, AB 1594, allows residents, local governments and the state to sue gunmakers and sellers for harm their products cause if they have broken state laws, such as SB 1327. That provision does not take effect until July 1, 2023. 

Feather Alert: AB 1314 creates a system similar to Amber Alert but for indigenous people who have gone missing “under unexplained or suspicious circumstances.” The somewhat offensively named, “Feather Alert,” will go into effect on Jan 1, 2023. California now has five missing persons alerts including the original Amber Alert, for missing children, Silver Alert, for missing elderly people suffering from cognitive diseases and decline, Blue Alert, for suspects involved in killing peace officers still on the loose, and Yellow Alert, for suspects who have fled the scene of a hit-and-run accident where the victim has died.

Employee Privacy: California companies will have a greater obligation to protect their employees and applicants’ personal information under new amendments to the California Privacy Rights Act. CPRA-covered employees must now create new notice and disclosure requirements, and allow employees to view, access, correct and delete their personal information from company files. 

Start typing and press Enter to search