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Mid-City CAN Blog

Supersizing Workers Rights: One Size Does Not Fit All

A new law intended to give laborers better working conditions was received with mixed feelings here in City Heights.

”These laws are good steps for workers rights, but in the log run they are more harm than good,” said a fast food worker, who wished to remain anonymous in fear of retribution from his company.

Workers gather at McDonalds to celebrate new law.
 Workers gather at McDonalds to celebrate new law.

July marked the first month in history that many workers in California were able to take paid sick leave from their jobs. On July 1, the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (AB 1522) went into affect, mandating one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The new law allows workers begin using the time accrued after 90 days of employment for both part time and full time employees.

 

The morning of June 30 people gathered in front of the McDonalds on Fairmount Avenue to celebrate the law. Their signs read, “3 Sick Days,” which is the maximum amount that can be taken under the new guidelines. Those three small words symbolize years of effort for workers’ rights. Much of that effort was made by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill and fought for it to pass. She spoke outside the McDonalds in City Heights to ring in the start of the law’s enactment.

Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez speaks to workers at law celebration.
Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez speaks to workers at law celebration.


"As a single working Mom, I know first-hand the challenge of having to juggle a sick child who needs to see a doctor and your responsibilities at work," said Assembly Member Gonzalez. "But no parent should have to experience the heartache of having to choose between making the rent and taking care of their child.”

According to state data, about 6.5 million people will be affected by the new law: roughly 40 percent of California’s workforce. In a public statement, Governor Jerry Brown praised the law.

"Whether you're a dishwasher in San Diego or a store clerk in Oakland, this bill frees you of having to choose between your family's health and your job," said Governor Brown.

While politicians and activists pat themselves on the back, many workers on the ground level are scared of the impact this law will make on their day-to-day work environment. One Panda Express worker is afraid his employer will lay off his peers to make up for the cost difference of paid sick days.

“My boss said that if we ask for a lot, he’ll have to reduce the workforce. They find a way around these laws. If I was single, I wouldn’t feel as much pressure to accept their conditions. But since I have a wife and kids I have to do whatever it takes to keep my job.”

Working at Panda Express for more than eight years, he has personally experienced that these are not just idle threats made to intimidate. They are a reality for people depending on their paychecks to survive.

“We get laid off when we ask for benefits. That actually happens. When they ask for a pay raise, they get laid off. It’s not an idea, it has actually happened and does happen.”

Several workers in City Heights echoed this fear, saying they cannot afford to lose their jobs like others have by asking for basic rights. Lan Ly, a Vietnamese interpreter for Mid-City CAN’s Food Justice Momentum Team, said that the idea behind this law is noble, but workers are too afraid of losing their jobs to speak up when employers choose not to follow the implementation of such laws.

“One reason they get away with not following these new laws- making employees scared to ask for their rights- is because it’s so easy to be replaced. If you want to get paid more they say, ‘Okay you can go. Here’s another person to replace you,’” said Ly

According to Ly, while big companies can afford to pay sick time off, many small businesses in City Heights may not be able to. He believes there are a lot of small companies that are struggling to survive, and that if you put more pressure on them they may go out of business.

Workers raise their hands to show who has had to choose between making rent and taking a sick child to the hospital.
 Workers raise their hands to show who has had to choose between making rent and taking a sick child to the hospital.

 “When we pass a new law, we have to differentiate based on the size, the profit of the sales, not a one-size-fits all. It doesn’t fit all.”

Whether or not they have been informed about the new law, or threatened by their employers if they ask for the rights it gives them, 279,000 San Diegans now have access to paid sick leave who did not before this past month.

 

 

 

“Every single worker will start to realize what it’s like to be able to rely on that just little bit of safety net,” said Assembly Member Gonzalez. “I think we’ll be a better state because of it.”

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