Bill to stop wage theft passes state Senate

Sept. 7, 2017 - With construction workers from all trades filling the gallery, the state Senate approved a bill Wednesday to end wage theft in California. The legislation still needs a concurrence vote from the Assembly, which already approved it, before it goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

Assembly Bill 1701 would hold general contractors accountable when their subcontractors fail to pay their workers. The bill -- authored by Assembly Member Tony Thurmond of Richmond, sponsored by the Carpenters and fully supported by the State Building and Construction Trades Council – made it through the Senate on a 24-12 vote. 

Dozens of members of Carpenters’ locals from around the state joined the Building Trades affiliates to watch the Senate’s vote. The trades all had rallied together for two days outside the Capitol and also worked the halls inside the building to discuss the bill with their legislative representatives.

Wage theft is a rampant problem in California’s massive underground economy where the state is getting shorted $8.5 billion to $10 billion a year by employers who don’t pay their taxes, according to the Little Hoover Commission.

In the construction industry, fully one-sixth of the labor force has been shown to be working off the books or has been misclassified as independent contractors. These workers get shorted tens of millions of dollars every year and have little chance of recovering their lost earnings due to an underfunded and overwhelmed state enforcement mechanism.

The SBCTC, which represents more than 400,000 workers and their families, strongly supported passage of AB 1701.

“This is wage theft – there are no other words for it,” SBCTC President Robbie Hunter said after the Senate vote. “You’re picking on a kid who is at the bottom with the lowest wages. This bill is for that kid, who often doesn’t even get minimum wage and where everything in the world is against him and her. They have no voice. Contractors cheat them with almost no consequence.

“This will make the people that profit from this type of subcontractor responsible for the check of the young man or young woman that is not getting paid. These kids have a rent payment at the end of every month. They should be paid at the right time at the appropriate amount.

“These unscrupulous general and subcontractors are creating an unfair playing field for fair contractors that carry workers comp, pay all tax obligations and decent wages to workers supporting their families in the construction industry. AB 1701 will help bring this to an end.”

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