COVID-19 labor laws are reviewed

By Breanna Fierro

The State Labor Commissioner’s office reviewed California’s COVID-19 labor laws to provide students information on workers’ rights.

State Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower joined a call to address important information students should know about California and COVID-19 related labor laws. 

Garcia-Brower attended ELAC before transferring to UC Riverside where she completed her schooling. She was appointed labor commissioner July 29, 2019.

The Commissioner’s Office had additionally begun participating in organizing two massive outreach programs since the pandemic. 

The Labor Commissioner Office’s main priority through this pandemic is said to meet the needs of the public.

 Since the start of the pandemic, it has transformed its entire operation into remote operations, identified expedited claim processes for retaliation claims, individual wage claims and COVID-19 related claims. 

The Labor Commissioner’s Office developed a process; if claims are identified as urgent, they are placed at the top of the list as priority, while their help line currently holds a zero-minute wait time. Thus people are receiving their information much sooner.

“The law can be complex and you have a lot of small businesses who can’t afford an attorney, who don’t have access to a human resources department and the Labor Commissioner’s Office is a resource for them to let them understand what their obligation is,” said Garcia-Brower.

That it is important that the student population is familiar with California labor laws, Garcia-Brower said, “Student populations should know that it’s important to be familiar with wage rates, what the minimum wage is, when overtime gets triggered, when double-time gets triggered, if one works seven consecutive days, it’s supposed to be paid at a higher rate on the seventh day; overtime for the first day and double time after that.” 

She said there are retaliation laws that are put into place so that the laws reviewed are the workers’ rights and workers have the legal right to exercise those without being retaliated or in fear of being retaliated against.

Garcia-Brower said it is important to understand  rights and to develop habits to protect them, like having a personal journal to document. 

One of the biggest complaints known within California is wage theft.ww It has continued to prevail and the pandemic hasn’t changed that truth. 

“Wage theft is more costly than all other burglaries combined in California. Specifically, in Los Angeles County, based on a 2012 study, it was found that LA County workers are robbed 26 million dollars a week,” said Garcia-Brower.

She wants students to understand that workers will not expect them to know their rights, making student workers particularly vulnerable to getting those rights violated, so it’s important to know their rights and how to manage that relationship with your employer.

One program launched is the “Workplace Rights Ambassador’s Project” (WRAP) which reaches out to organizations who are first-line responders to trauma victims. They are partnered with the East Los Angeles Women’s Center who also respond to domestic violence issues, trafficking issues to issues of abuse. 

Garcia-Brower said trauma victims, people fighting for parental custody, trafficking and rape victims are least likely to engage in another legal dispute to recover wages. 

They will instead disregard the situation and hop over to the next job, they are in survival mode. She said the commissioner’s office is building up a relationship with the agency to train their staff members so the team becomes familiar, so as people come, they are a resource to be considered. 

Part of the objective is to build a relationship with the East LA Women’s Center, educating people about the complex needs of the communities in East LA and South LA while the Women’s Center is educating themselves about the Labor Commissioner’s Office and workplace protections, said Garcia-Brower.

She said she encourages everyone to take the time out to understand these rights regardless of immigration status. 

California law protects all workers, so it is important for employees to know if an employer is lying or taking advantage of them.

The Labor Commissioner’s Office also participates in two huge outreach programs: one targets trauma victims and the other is a Spanish language outreach program. 

She said there are over 70 professionals involved in outreach efforts, including Public Information Officer for California Department of Industrial Relations Paola Laverde, working weekends and weeknights with the Spanish language outreach program. 

“The most vulnerable workers, the working poor, tend to need us but they tend to be the ones who don’t know us. I want to build relationships, pathways and communities to those who don’t have a current network to the Labor Commissioner’s Office,” said Garcia-Brower.

The second outreach program is called the Business Engagement Program, training 20,000 employers in the past seven months, complying with COVID-19 related obligations and training in basic obligations. 

The Labor Commissioner’s Office is reaching toward working with small business employers or any employer who is willing to participate with them on this project and it has been successful so far, said Garcia-Brower.

“The Labor Commissioner’s Office should be a household name. Every single worker should know about us. The California labor code is like a contract but for the non-union worker, because the California labor code applies to all workers,” said Garcia-Brower. 

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