Governor Signs Lorena Gonzalez Bill to End Forced Arbitration in California

Thursday, October 10, 2019

AB 51 Bans Requirement that Workers Must Sign Away Their Rights in Order to Be Hired

SACRAMENTO – (Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019) – California workers can no longer be forced to waive away their right to workplace protections after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 51 by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to ensure that entering into arbitration is a choice for employees, not a precondition of their employment. 

When both parties choose arbitration freely, it can be a highly effective tool. But it doesn’t work when corporations say you won’t be hired unless you sign away your rights,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “This law will protect workers when employers allow discrimination, permit sexual harassment, or engage in wage theft.”

Some of the strongest worker protections in the country have been passed by the California Legislature, but these laws cannot be enforced when employers force workers to sign away their rights in an arbitration agreement. Since the early 2000s, the share of American workers subject to mandatory arbitration has more than doubled. Over 67 percent of California non-union, private-sector workplaces have mandatory arbitration policies, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute. 

Increasingly, employers are requiring workers to give up their rights in industries you would not expect to have mandatory arbitration agreements, such as in food service, hospitality and retail. These are industries that predominantly employ our most vulnerable workers: immigrants, people of color and women.

Although arbitration can be an effective tool for conflict resolution, such as with union bargaining agreements, when it is applied by force between employers and an individual worker, the process overwhelmingly becomes rigged against the worker. Under AB 51, all contracts would need to be voluntary, not as the result of coercion.

Forcing workers to sign arbitration agreements allows for harassment, discrimination, and labor violation claims to be kept out of court, effectively cloaking them in secrecy and, in some cases, allowing serial harassers and repeat violators to continue their conduct for years. The measure signed into law today will bring these cases of abuse out of the shadows.

AB 51 will protect vulnerable workers from being forced to waive their rights, and it will prohibit employers from threatening, retaliating, discriminating against, or terminating workers because they refuse to consent to such a waiver.

For press questions or to schedule an interview with Assemblywoman Gonzalez, contact Sami Gallegos (209) 658-7617.