Opinion: Seeking reforms to protect our lowest-paid workers

In the cut-throat property services industry, building contracts turn over quickly.  A janitor like Maria Trujillo might find out at the end of her shift in the hospital where she works that the contractor that employs her has been replaced—something that’s happened to her three times in six years. 

Because janitors fought for common sense-protections to help them transition when contracts change hands, Maria has been able to prove herself to her new employers each time, and keep the job her family is counting on. But for thousands of contracted food service workers, and licensed, security officers who work alongside Maria, no such protections exist.  If their employer is underbid, they can be thrown out of work with little or no notice.  They must scramble to figure out how to feed their families, and their progress to financial security is derailed.

With Assembly Bill 350, authored by Jose Solorio, the California legislature has the opportunity to begin reforming the troubled contracted property services industry.  It is an industry characterized by hyper competition – where contracts too often turn not on the promise of better services but on the promise of cutting costs by creating poverty wage jobs. AB 350 would offer hard-working contract security officers and food service workers a modicum of stability, giving them 60 days after a building contract changes hands to prove themselves to their new employer or find a new job.

AB 350 is modeled after the successful Displaced Janitor Opportunity Act, which allows janitors to stay on an additional 60 days when a new contractor came in to clean a building.  That bill has worked. In over ten years, there has not been a single example of any legal dispute related to its implementation

Rather than throwing janitors out of a job overnight, the law gives these hard-working employees enough time to prove their worth to their new employers.  And it has ensured the contractors compete on what really matters – top rate services.

California’s powerful office building owners are doing everything they can to keep the legislature from protecting some of our lowest paid workers, but what they’re saying simply isn’t true. They are dead wrong when they say the bill takes away employers’ rights to decide who to hire; the final say remains with the company, as it should. In fact, the California Supreme Court has ruled that similar laws do not interfere with businesses and workers’ legal rights. 

California’s middle class did not just happen, its development was the result of sound public policy that made homeownership possible; helped to make college affordable, and played a vital role in keeping business honest. Strengthening our middle class after a devastating recession means implementing the kind of common-sense policy that enables workers like Maria to lift their families out of poverty.

Low-wage security officers and food services workers aren’t often seen walking the halls of the California State legislature, but they’ve come to the Capitol this year to tell their elected officials what their families are facing during the Great Recession.  AB 350 is the type of legislation we need more of coming out of this downturn.  It will help to transform troubled industries that are undermining good jobs, and that’s what California needs.  

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