Lorena Gonzalez Bill to End Forced Waiver of Workers’ Rights Passes First Committee Hurdle

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

SACRAMENTO -- (Wed., March 6, 2019) -- Legislation authored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D - San Diego) to empower workers and prevent employers from forcing individuals to waive their rights to worker protections passed Wednesday out of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.  

Some of the strongest worker protections in the country have been passed by the California Legislature, but these laws cannot be enforced because employers can force workers to sign away their rights in an arbitration agreement. Assembly Bill 51 requires that employees are able to choose whether to sign such agreements without the threat of job loss or other retaliation.

“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 measure will protect workers when corporations allow discrimination, permit sexual harassment, or engage in wage theft.”

AB 51 would ban employers from forcing workers to give up their rights before they are even hired. 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, the process overwhelmingly becomes rigged against the worker. All contracts would need to be voluntary, not the result of coercion.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found since the early 2000s, the share of American workers subject to mandatory arbitration has more than doubled and now exceeds 55 percent. Over 67 percent of California workplaces now have mandatory arbitration policies.

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.

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.

AB 51 will protect vulnerable workers from being forced to waive their rights in order to make a living and provide for their families. The bill passed Wednesday’s committee on a 5 to 1 vote and moves forward to be heard in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on March 19.

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