Sacramento Report: New Workplace Equity Laws Are Under Fire - Voice of San Diego

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Sacramento Report: New Workplace Equity Laws Are Under Fire

Laws ending mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment, requiring women on corporate boards and limiting the use of independent contractors have all drawn challenges in court.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have filed suit over a new law written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that bans mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment.

Arbitration agreements have long been flagged by consumer watchdogs and others, but came under intense fire during the #MeToo era when it became clear that such agreements, which typically come with confidentiality clauses, were preventing women from speaking out about abuse and harassment they experienced in the workplace – thereby preventing them from warning other women and allowing the behavior to continue.

AB 51 prevents employers from requiring mandatory arbitration agreements – in which employees agree to waive their rights to sue, and instead resolve disputes through a private system – as a condition of employment. It does not prevent new employees from entering into such agreements, it prevents employers from requiring them.

The lawsuit cites research it says shows arbitration “provides workers with a fair and effective means of resolving their disputes.” That research was paid for by … the Chamber of Commerce.

Separate research has found “employees are less likely to win arbitration cases and they recover lower damages in mandatory employment arbitration than in the courts,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. A review by Cornell University found employees were less likely to win arbitration cases than they were when litigating employment disputes in court, and also found “a significant repeat employer-arbitrator pairing effect in which employees on average have lower win rates and receive smaller damage awards where the same arbitrator is involved in more than one case with the same employer, a finding supporting some of the fairness criticisms directed at mandatory employment arbitration.”

The business groups also argue in their suit that federal law pre-empts the new measure.

They argue that California Gov. Jerry Brown backs them up on this, because he vetoed a previous version of the law, and wrote in his veto message that it “plainly violates federal law,” referring to the Federal Arbitration Act.

It’s not the first time business interests have used Brown’s reasoning to fight new California laws.

Conservative groups noted that Brown also expressed skepticism about the legality of a separate law, written by Senate Leader Pro Tem Toni Atkins, requiring public companies based in California to include at least one woman on their board of directors. That law is now facing two separate lawsuits arguing it discriminates against men.

And last month, the California Trucking Association filed the first legal challenge to another workplace law written by Gonzalez, AB 5, which limits the instances in which employers can classify workers as independent contractors. The federal lawsuit challenges both AB 5 and the California Supreme Court decision on which the law is based.

Waldron, Atkins Urge Trump to Release Homeless Numbers

Two San Diego lawmakers have joined Gov. Gavin Newsom in urging the Trump administration to swiftly release homeless census data amid continued speculation about a possible federal crackdown on homelessness in the state.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron teamed with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove to pen a Dec. 6 letter to President Donald Trump urging his administration to release point-in-time count data the state had initially counted on to allocate $650 million in homelessness aid.

The state had planned to use federally certified census data, typically released in November or December following counts at the beginning of the year, to dole out a substantial portion of the $1 billion included in the state budget to combat homelessness.

“We look forward to getting this information so we can move forward on addressing California’s homeless crisis,” Atkins, Waldron, Grove and Rendon wrote in their letter.

State officials have estimated the city, San Diego County and the Regional Task Force on the Homeless could collectively receive $38.8 million of the $650 million in Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention funds this year.

Two days before the lawmakers sent their letter, Newsom announced he was done waiting for final point-in-time count data and would use preliminary data to immediately allow cities, counties and continuum of care councils that coordinate homelessness efforts to begin applying for 75 percent of those funds. Newsom decided the remaining 25 percent can be handed out once the feds release finalized census numbers.

In an email to Voice of San Diego, the federal Housing and Urban Development press office reported that the agency expects to release point-in-time count data in mid-December. Last year’s data was released on Dec. 17.

Russ Heimerich of the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency said HUD had previously informed a state council focused on homelessness that finalized data would be released in November.

Waldron said she doesn’t consider the data to be late but told VOSD that she signed the bipartisan letter in hopes it would draw more attention.

“There’s a lot going on in D.C. and we thought it was appropriate to highlight the importance of California receiving the point-in-time data as soon as it’s available since we’ve based our budget spending on it,” Waldron said.

Waldron, Heimerich and a spokeswoman for Atkins said state leaders have yet to receive a response from the Trump administration.

Lisa Halverstadt

California, Land of the Fees

The State Bar recently sent out fee statements to California lawyers for 2020, which prompted Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to tweet that she was “not amused to be paying over $500 this year for the privilege of retaining my license to practice law.”

The Legislature approved legislation earlier this year allowing the bar to raise its fees from a combined $430 to $544, a 27 percent increase and the first fee hike the agency has received in roughly two decades. Attorneys are permitted to deduct up to $47 if they opt out of paying for certain items such as legal aid.

Though the union representing State Bar employees supported the fee increase, Gonzalez said she did not. The San Diego Democrat was listed as “no vote recorded” when the legislation came before the full Assembly in September after having backed the bill in policy committees during the summer.

Gonzalez said one reason for her frustration with the fee hike was that lawyers “who use their law degrees for the public good: to represent the poor, immigrants, incarcerated” must pay the same amount as “corporate attorneys who represent big business. And, if you work for a big firm, they pay your dues for you.”

“This regressive fee structure is a disincentive to do public interest law and should be corrected,” Gonzalez tweeted.

Her tweets sparked responses from those working in other professions, such as nursing, about the state licensing fees they face.

Gonzalez noted that State Bar fees are unique because they come before lawmakers annually, but said she is now interested in examining other fees due to responses her initial comments prompted.

Gonzalez’s spokeswoman said the lawmaker was not available for an interview to discuss licensing fees.

Lyle Moran

Golden State News

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