In a big move to advance the Teamster campaign to organize immigrant workers in California's food chain, the legislature passed a series of bills to crack down on employers who retaliate against workers who stand up for their rights.
“We understand that fear of retaliation is the biggest obstacle when organizing immigrant workers, especially in work places where there are a high number of undocumented workers,” says Joint Council 7 Political Director Doug Bloch. “California workers will now be protected from employers who threaten or use immigration status against workers who are standing up for their rights.”
AB 263, offered by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, and SB 666, sponsored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, are identical versions of the same bill. They help enforce basic labor laws by barring bosses from calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials after working condition complaints are filed against the business. AB 524, offered by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, prohibits similar threats against workers who file complaints about not being paid fairly.
The lengths companies will go to in an effort to keep their workers quiet was on full display earlier this year during a committee hearing. Owners of the Marquez Brothers cheese facility in Hanford intimidated one worker who testified before the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee in March. The testifying employee, a mother of four, was later fired by Marquez.
Workers at the Marquez plant have been trying to negotiate a first contract as Teamsters for about a year, to no avail. “But at least the company’s workers will be allowed to speak out,” said Gerardo Aguirre, a former Marquez worker who was fired while standing up for his rights. “The workers at Marquez Brothers are united in standing up to intimidation, at work and in the state legislature. We need laws that allow all workers to speak up and protect immigrant workers from these kinds of abuses.”
Teamsters played a key role in getting the three bills to the Governor’s desk, including holding lobby days in Sacramento. All three bills await the Governor's signature.
“We can now tell California workers, including undocumented workers, that when they organize, speak up, or file complaints, they have protections,” says Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise. “We are pushing forward with an aggressive organizing program in California and this legislation will help us succeed.”