The focus of the Center for Workers’ Rights efforts is to embolden workers to gain knowledge about their workplace rights, how to fight for them, and most importantly stand up when they are being dismissed, ignored, or invalidated.
As advocates for low-wage workers, we understand the importance of trust, reliability, and empathy when building relationships with the community. Our one on one discussions with all of our clients are confidential. All low-wage workers in California can confidently rely on the Center for assistance with workplace issues, and the tools to be strong advocates for themselves, and others.
In our effort to create the space for this, we have identified key areas of support; Access to Justice, Creating Lasting Impact, and Building Community Connections. We utilize these key areas to foster and strengthen our relationship with workers in a variety of sectors in our effort to unite our community and repair confidence in worker power.
Since we opened our doors in 2014, the Center for Workers’ Rights has been fighting on behalf of all California workers on a variety of fronts and issues. Below are just a few examples of the victories we have been able to achieve, fulfilling our goal to create lasting, and impactful change.
CWR, with other Advocates, Reached Agreement with CA Employment Development Department to Expand Language Access
On February 28, 2022, CWR announced language access improvements to be implemented by EDD through 2024 to ensure EDD upholds Californians’ Civil Rights and embraces communities’ vast language abilities. CWR, in partnership with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc, and Legal Aid at Work (LAAW) achieved this settlement after frequent discussions with EDD about the barriers claimants were facing in accessing UI benefits because of language, exacerbated by the increased demand for benefits during the pandemic. CWR continues to engage with EDD to monitor compliance with this agreement.
$1.3 Million Judgment Issued Against Sacramento Home Care Facilities
The citation of the Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE) was upheld after an appeal hearing and a judgment of more than $1.3 million was entered against three residential care homes owned by James Ashley. The Center for Workers’ Rights represented 5 of the 24 workers impacted by the judgment who provided the needed testimony that served as the basis for the BOFE citation.
Like many residential care workers, the CWR clients were required to stay at the facilities during their 24-hour shift and respond to resident needs throughout that time. Although the workers were provided a shared room in which to sleep, they could not get a full night’s rest due to the constant needs of the residents. Yet, their employer only paid them for one hour of work for the 8 hours of rest they should have been allowed.
Our clients joined together to provide important information to BOFE about the inaccurate time records they were required to create for the employer and consistently testified to the hours they worked throughout the BOFE investigation.
Class Action Win Against CA Employment Development Department on Conditional Payments
In July 2021, the Center for Workers’ Rights reached a settlement with the Employment Development Department to pay backlogged claims, which resulted in payment of more than $600 million to 300,000 claimants in the first month of the new program.
With an unprecedented influx of unemployment insurance claims in Californians due to the pandemic, for months leading up to the lawsuit, CWR relentlessly advocated for thousands of claimants dealing with delays in payment of benefits. Our staff met weekly with other advocates across the state to discuss cases and identify systemic issues affecting claimants. CWR brought these issues to the attention of EDD through our weekly communications to its leadership.
As a result of the settlement agreement, EDD created a permanent new program where claimants in continuing claim status will receive “conditional payments” while EDD investigates new eligibility issues.
The CWR remains committed to helping claimants facing other issues regarding UI benefits.
Minimum Wage Recovered for Worker, Despite Employer Appeal to Court
Juan Carlos, a hard-working, Spanish-speaking, cook in a busy Elk Grove restaurant worked 12 hours a day, six days a week for three years. The employer paid him a daily rate of $76.00, which means he made only $6.33 an hour, well below minimum wage.
During the Labor Commissioner hearing in December 2015, the employer presented a “Settlement Agreement and General Release,” written in English, which purported to waive all of Juan Carlos’ claims for a sum of $50.00. Juan Carlos testified that he was told he had to sign the agreement to get his paycheck, that he did not understand the agreement presented to him, and that he never received $50.00 for signing the agreement.
In its decision, the Labor Commissioner awarded the full amount claimed, plus interest for a total of $55,381.08. Unfortunately, the employer appealed to the Superior Court of California and the Center’s advocacy for Juan Carlos’ rights continued. We soon entered into a settlement agreement to avoid trial.
First Enforcement Action on California Paid Sick Days
California’s new paid sick day law went into effect on July 1, 2015. On August 15, 2015, Clarence James took a sick day from work and asked his employer to pay him for it. When his employer, a local security company, refused to pay him, he filed a claim with the Labor Commissioner.
Represented by a CWR-trained law student volunteer at his hearing, the Labor Commissioner found the employer in violation of the new paid sick day law and awarded wages and all available penalties, $11,164.15 in total.
The Center for Workers’ Rights was the first legal services organization to enforce the new paid sick days law. It has since claimed violations of the paid sick day law in dozens of cases.
Fight for a Fair Minimum Wage Ordinance in Sacramento
On September 2, 2015, a task force appointed by Mayor Kevin Johnson recommended increasing Sacramento, California’s minimum wage to $12.50 an hour by 2020. The Center for Workers’ Rights opposed this minimum wage ordinance since the exemptions undermine efforts to improve the lives of Sacramento’s lowest-paid workers. This recommendation pre-dated the state’s approval of its new minimum wage increases through SB 3, enacted on April 4, 2016. “A higher minimum wage in Sacramento with cruel, confusing and widespread exemptions would create an unenforceable law and not the benefit of a higher wage that is needed by Sacramento’s workers,” said executive director Daniela Urban about the proposed ordinance.
Although the City Council made amendments to the proposed ordinance to try to appease some of our concerns, they passed the ordinance on October 27, 2015. However, the Council subsequently rescinded the ordinance on April 19, 2016, after the state passed a higher and broader minimum wage ordinance.
Since working on this campaign, the Center for Workers’ Rights continues to meet with City Council members to inform them about the importance of proper worker protections.
CWR Successfully Overturns Trial Court Judgment Finding No Wages Owed
The Center for Workers’ Rights began representing truck driver Curtis Vance after he attended our Workers’ Rights Clinic during its first year in January 2015. Vance often spent more than half his day “on duty, not driving,” which went unpaid under the piece rate scheme.
The Center filed his claim in February 2015. Meanwhile, the Legislature enacted AB 1513, which provided a limited safe harbor to employers who have improperly paid their workers under a piece rate scheme. In December 2015, just days before the new law went into effect, the Labor Commissioner awarded him $78,537.38 for back wages, meal period premiums and other penalties.
The employer appealed the Labor Commissioner’s decision and, citing the new law, argued at trial in the Superior Court in Sacramento that they should be absolved of all liability. The court agreed, finding that the employer’s payment of $4,762.52 in an effort to utilize the safe harbor allowed it to evade penalties for even those claims specifically excluded from the new safe harbor provision.
We appealed the trial court’s order to the 3rd District Court of Appeals arguing that the employer did not comply with all the provisions of the safe harbor and, even if it had, the trial court improperly swept in claims with the safe harbor that were expressly excluded by the new law.
In September 2018, the appeals court issued its decision in our favor and remanded the case to the trial court for retrial.
Despite the lengthy time spent on this case for what some might see as a small monetary amount, CWR believes that employers should not be able to avoid paying wages owed by continued legal proceedings.