With limited federal benefits, including increased unemployment assistance, set to expire—or at least be significantly reduced—this week, California labor groups are pushing state and local lawmakers to boost worker protections in the Golden State.
Throughout the pandemic, a statewide coalition of labor advocates has urged lawmakers to extend sick leave and other benefits, which they argue will allow workers to stay home and prevent the spread of Covid-19.
In February, state Assembly members Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced Assembly Bill 3216, which would offer workers various extra protections amid the pandemic. The Assembly passed the bill in June, and the state Senate is currently considering doing the same.
However, in an effort to appease business groups, the legislation has been significantly watered down during the legislative process, according to Bay Area union coalitions, including the South Bay and North Bay labor councils.
As a result, labor groups and their allies are pushing Bay Area cities and counties to pass stronger local paid-leave laws, namely a 10-day sick-leave mandate for companies with over 500 employees. Under federal rules, employers with more than 500 workers are exempt from Covid-19 sick leave rules. And, under the current version of AB 3216, employees would only receive three days of additional sick leave.
Advocates of the policy say that in addition to providing workers with economic protections when they fall sick, the rule will help prevent the spread of Covid-19. For instance, if a low-income worker in the food service or hospitality industry catches the virus, they would be paid to stay home instead of being required to return to work.
To date, nine local governments, including the cities of San Jose and San Francisco, have passed local sick-leave policies since the start of the pandemic shutdown.
As one might imagine, some businesses are not happy about the state and local proposals, arguing that additional sick leave will be costly to employers who they say are also struggling due to the pandemic’s economic impacts.
An Assembly staff report states that a group of employers, including the California Chamber of Commerce, opposes AB 3216, the state labor legislation. “[The bill] imposes staggering, significant and unprecedented new requirements on businesses of all sizes in California during a time of crisis when they can least afford it,” the report states.
In addition to expanding and extending sick leave during the pandemic, the bill would require some employers—including hotels and event centers—to offer laid-off employees their jobs back in writing once the company begins to rehire. That requirement, known as the Right of Recall, seems particularly offensive to business groups.
In a letter to the Assembly opposing AB 3216, the California Chamber of Commerce raised the threat of litigation against the state and the local governments which have already passed similar legislation. According to the Assembly staff report, the chamber is arguing that the requirement is “the statutory right of recall contained in AB 3216 is legally suspect and would likely be struck down.”