September 15, 2015

2015 California Legislative Update

The 2015 California legislative year was completed early Saturday morning following final action on bills. The focus now shifts as the governor will decide the fate of the bills that were passed. Below is a brief snapshot of key bills of importance to WG.

AB 465 (Roger Hernandez, D – West Covina) Oppose: AB 465 would preclude the use of mandatory employment arbitration agreements. Although likely pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act, the bill was passed by the Legislature. Increased litigation and class actions would be likely if this bill is approved. WG and a large employer coalition are requesting that AB 465 be vetoed.

AB 561 (Campos, D – San Jose) Oppose: This bill would require the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) to process to final board order all decisions concerning make-whole awards, backpay, and other monetary awards to employees within one year of any ALRB order. AB 561 would also require an employer seeking a writ of review of any Board decision involving make-whole, backpay, or other monetary awards to first post a bond in the amount of the entire economic value of the order as determined by the Board. The bill was passed and WG is seeking a veto by the governor.

AB 1390 (Alejo, D – Watsonville) and SB 226 (Pavley, D – Agoura Hills) Support:  These measures together fulfill the governor’s determination, articulated in his signing statement from last year for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), to streamline groundwater basin adjudications.  AB 1390 adds a new chapter to the Code of Civil Procedure that will establish procedures for legal actions to comprehensively adjudicate rights to groundwater in a basin. Streamlining the process will ease the burden on the courts, provide the parties with the most efficient resolution possible and protect individual rights. SB 226 adds a new chapter to the Water Code and will work in conjunction with AB 1390 to provide the necessary policy changes to SGMA to accommodate and coordinate future adjudications in high and medium priority basins. Because AB 1390 and SB 226 are purely procedural bills, they do not alter groundwater rights or hinder SGMA or the SGMA process. Republicans joined Democrats in approving both bills unanimously in the state Senate and with only three dissenting votes to SB 226 in the Assembly.

AB 1506 (Roger Hernandez, D – West Covina) Support: This bill would amend the Labor Code Private Attorney General Act of 2004 (PAGA) to provide an employer with the right to cure a violation of failing to provide its employees with a wage statement containing the inclusive dates of the pay period and the name and address of the legal entity that is the employer. The bill would limit the employer’s right to cure to once per 12-month period. AB 1506 was passed by the Legislature and WG is part of a large coalition requesting its approval by the governor.

AB 1513 (Williams, D – Santa Barbara) Support if Amended: This bill provides an affirmative defense and safe harbor for employers who, by December 15, 2016, fully compensate piece rate employees for all under-compensated rest periods, recovery periods, or unproductive time between July 1, 2012 and December 31, 2015.  This legislation emerged following a flood of class-action lawsuits against growers exposed to huge civil penalties and liquidated damages due to appellate court rulings that changed long-accepted practice for payment of rest periods and other nonproductive time for piece rate employees. WG maintained a support if amended position on the bill, arguing for removal of a provision, added at the insistence of the UFW, that targets one company.  The provision prevents the company from accessing the safe harbor protection from class action litigation due to unproven allegations in an unrelated wage and hour case. Unfortunately, this amendment was not taken.  The bill was passed and will be signed by the governor.

SB 3 (Leno, D – San Francisco) Oppose: This bill would increase the minimum wage on January 1, 2016 to $11 per hour, and on July 1, 2017, to $13 per hour. Beginning January 1, 2019, the minimum wage would be annually adjusted using the California Consumer Price Index. WG was part of a large employer coalition opposing SB 3. The bill was stopped in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations and remains eligible for further action next year. Democratic leaders have indicated that they would like to see the minimum wage increased to $15 per hour. Labor unions have filed a ballot initiative increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation.

SB 32 (Pavley, D – Agoura Hills) Oppose: This bill originally required the California Air Resources Board to approve statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits that are the equivalent of 40% below the 1990 level to be achieved by 2030 and 80% below the 1990 level to be achieved by 2050. Strong opposition from a large coalition of industry groups including WG and a sizeable group of moderate Democrats in the Assembly compelled the author to drop the 80% mandate and hold the bill in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources. Senator Pavley has stated that she will continue to advocate for the greenhouse gas emissions reduction mandate next year.

SB 350 (De Leon, D – Los Angeles) Oppose: WG has been part of a large coalition opposing SB 350 because it would significantly increase energy costs by expanding three clean-energy goals to be achieved by 2030. Original language in the bill would have required a 50% reduction in petroleum use in the state, increasing the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50%, and increasing energy efficiency in buildings by 50%. Following heavy multi-industry sector opposition and engagement by moderate Democrats in the Assembly, the 50% petroleum mandate was removed from the bill last week. SB 350 was passed in its reduced form by the Legislature and is awaiting a certain signature by the governor.

Please contact WGs’ Matthew Allen  or Gail Delihant  at (916) 446-1435 for more information.