The Workers’ Rights Round Up, a collaboration between Local Progress and the Harvard Center for Labor and a Just Economy (Previously named the Harvard Labor & Worklife Program), is back for our third edition! Below, we’ve collected some landmark workers’ rights policies that passed across the country over the last few months, as well as news of recent enforcement actions. We’ve seen some exciting and innovative developments on wage theft (in four different localities!), increases in the minimum wage, the passage of fair work week laws, and more.
As we enter 2023, we hope the policies below provide inspiration as you think through how to fight for workers in your community this year. If you have any policies or programs that you think should be uplifted in the next workers’ rights round up or if you want to be connected to the leaders of any of the policies mentioned here, reply to this email or email Vishal Reddy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
💰 Legislation to Combat Wage Theft
➡ Austin, TX Passes Wage Theft Protection Ordinance: In December, Austin City Council passed a landmark, comprehensive wage theft ordinance to protect workers. The process to create this ordinance was initiated by outgoing councilmember and Local Progress member Ann Kitchen and co-sponsored by Local Progress member Vanessa Fuentes. The bill has three main features: 1) creates a wage theft coordinator position to assist workers that report violations, 2) creates a publicly available database of employers that have a record of wage theft in the city and 3) bars any employer in the database from entering into any contract with the city of Austin. Click here to view the ordinance.
➡ Denver, CO Passes A Wage Theft Ordinance: The Denver City Council also took aim at wage theft by unanimously passing an ordinance co-sponsored by Local Progress members and Councilmembers Amanda Sawyer, Stacie Gilmore, Candi CdeBaca, and Council President Jamie Torres. Denver’s new ordinance has three main components. First, it provides a civil penalty for wage theft offenses. Second, it enables victims of wage theft to file a complaint with the city auditor rather than going through the court system. Third, once the complaint is filed, Denver Labor will investigate and can levy penalties against employers, including ensuring that employers pay back employees with 12% interest. Click here to view the ordinance.
➡ Cleveland, OH Passes Wage Theft And Payroll Fraud Prevention Ordinance: The Cleveland City Council also attacked wage theft by passing an ordinance that bars the city from granting financial assistance or entering into contracts with companies that have been found to have committed wage theft and/or payroll fraud. It grants Cleveland’s Fair Employment Wage Board the authority to maintain a list of businesses that have been found to commit wage theft. The ordinance doesn’t create an absolute bar on doing business and can, in certain circumstances, the city can grant a waiver. Additionally, businesses can become re-eligible if ownership changes hands or they’ve demonstrated that they’ve taken action to prevent future violations. Click here to view the ordinance.
➡ San Diego County Board of Supervisors Uses Contracting Power to Fight Wage Theft, Advance Worker Power, and Establish a Wage Floor: The San Diego Board of Supervisors crafted a new wage theft policy specific to janitorial, landscaping, and security workers. The county’s new policy has three main components. First, it requires that a portion of the money set aside for the contract be held to compensate workers in case of violations; that portion will only be released at the end of the contract if there are no wage theft claims. Second, it requires that companies bidding for city contracts include labor peace and collective bargaining agreements. Third, it establishes a wage floor every five years based on comparisons to other jurisdictions. Click here to view the policy.
📃 Other Worker Protection Legislation
➡ Tukwila, WA Increases Minimum Wage From $14.49 To $19: In November, Tukwila voters approved a minimum wage increase from the Washington State minimum wage of $14.49 to $18.99, which sets Tukwila’s minimum wage as one of the highest in the nation. The proposal won decisively, receiving more than 82% of the votes. Click here to view more details about the campaign and the ballot language.
➡ Washington D.C. Passes Domestic Workers Protections: Introduced by D.C. Council and Local Progress members Elissa Silverman and Janeese Lewis George, the bill has three main components. First, employers must provide a written contract prior to the first day of employment that “includes a start date, location of work, a schedule, information on paid and unpaid leave, whether a car is needed, salary, and pay schedule.” Second, the bill directs the city’s administration to enforce the law. Third, it provides resources to organizations that help domestic workers understand and leverage their legal rights. Click here to view the ordinance.
➡ Irvine, CA Passes The Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance. The Irvine Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance seeks to protect workers from sexual harassment and assault and to provide fair compensation and workloads. The ordinance requires that hotels provide workers with panic buttons and 24-hour security. The ordinance also limits the number of rooms that can be cleaned daily through a calculation considering room square footage, and prohibits workers from being assigned more than ten hours per day unless they give written consent. The workload and hours limitations can be superseded by a collective bargaining agreement. Click here to view the ordinance.
➡ Los Angeles, CA Passes A Fair Work Week Ordinance: The ordinance requires that employers provide prospective and new employees with a good faith estimate of the expected work schedule. Once hired, employers must provide employees with written notice of their work schedules at least fourteen calendar days before the start of the work period. Employers making changes to that schedule must provide employees with written notice, and employees have the right to decline the scheduling changes and cannot experience retaliation for doing so. The ordinance will apply to Los Angeles retail employers at least 300 employees globally. Click here to view the ordinance.
➡ Atlanta, GA Prohibits Employment Discrimination On The Basis Of Criminal History Or Gender Expression: The ordinance achieves this by amending existing anti-discrimination laws to include gender expression and criminal history as protected categories. The ordinance applies to any business with more than ten employees. Click here to view the ordinance.
➡ Harris County, TX Approves A Worker Safety Policy For Contractors At Construction Sites: Harris County Commissioners unanimously approved a policy that would require contractors to submit their safety record as part of any potential bids for city contracts about a $500K threshold, with limited exceptions. Click here to view the policy.
➡ New York City, NY Announces Mediation Program For Domestic Workers: A report conducted by New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection found that more than half of the city’s domestic workers — the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color — have experienced wage theft, safe and sick leave violations, harassment, discrimination, and other workplace problems. The City announced creation of a mediation program to provide a potentially quicker alternative for workers to resolve issues with their employers.
💥 Enforcement Activity by Local Agencies
Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards Secures Settlements with Companies. Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards has reached a number of settlements with employers in recent months. The office reached a $55K settlement with Trader Joe’s regarding overtime payments since Trader Joe’s failed to include required hazard pay in calculating their payment rate; a $400K settlement with Red Robin related to fair workweek and wage theft law; a $186K settlement with Hungry Panda for violations of gig worker paid sick time and premium pay, a $750K settlement with food delivery company GoPuff for violations of gig worker paid sick and safe time, and a $180K settlement with delivery company Fantaun for violations of gig worker paid sick time and premium pay.
🧩 Works In Progress: Proposed Legislation On Workers’ Rights Issues
➡ New York City, NY Councilmember And Local Progress Member Tiffany Cabán Introduces Universal Just Cause Termination Legislation. New York City already provides 70,000 fast food workers with “just cause” protections, and this bill would expand that right to all workers in New York City. The bill by Local Progress member Tiffany Cabán, developed in collaboration with Make the Road, Amazon Labor Union, and the National Employment Law Project, would expand worker protections by ensuring that employers would need just cause to terminate employees and could not arbitrarily fire them without warning for reasons unrelated to job performance.
➡ New York City, NY Council Passes Resolution Calling On The State Legislature To Increase the Minimum Wage and Connect It To Inflation. The power to set a minimum wage for all workers in New York City lies with the state legislature. The New York City Council, led by Local Progress member Carmen De La Rosa, passed a resolution to support a New York State Legislature bill, Raise the Wage Act. This bill would increase the minimum wage to $21.25 and then index the wage every year to ensure it keeps pace with productivity and the cost of living. Because New York City’s minimum wage is not inflation-adjusted, it has begun to lag behind the minimum wages of other smaller, less expensive cities.
➡ Chicago, Il Proposes A Bodily Autonomy 2.0 Ordinance. This ordinance, backed by Mayor Lori LIghtfoot, prevents housing and employment discrimination against an individual who receives reproductive healthcare or gender affirming care. It also prevents employers from accessing private healthcare information of the employees. The ordinance directs the Chicago Commission on Human Relations to investigate potential violations of the ordinance. This ordinance builds off the initial Bodily Autonomy ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council in September 2021, which prohibits any City department or agency from participating in any investigation or proceeding related to reproductive and gender-affirming care led by another jurisdiction, including anti-abortion states.