(SACRAMENTO) – The Senate Labor Committee yesterday approved AB 1897, a bill already approved by the Assembly that would hold companies accountable for serious violations of the rights of workers on their premises that are committed by their own labor suppliers.
Like similar legislation that is already law in Illinois, the bill would address a rapidly spreading corporate shell game in which companies claim that the men and women who do their work are not really employees but “temporary” workers for labor contractors or agencies. This scam allows corporations to deny responsibility for compliance with basic worker rights standards involving pay, benefits, and working conditions. The bill is authored by Assemblymember Roger Hernandez and co-sponsored by the California Labor Federation.
“This shell game is a significant contributor to the crisis in our economy today,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “More and more people are working harder with less to show for it. Their low wages, unhealthy working conditions, and lack of benefits subsidize the greatest wealth at the top in the history of the world. Holding corporations accountable for violations of basic worker rights on their premises would be an important step in the right direction.”
Hoffa was joined today by workers from Taylor Farms, a California company where abuses of worker rights dramatize the need for the new law.
Taylor Farms is the world’s largest salad processor, supplying to McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Subway, Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden and Red Lobster), and many other restaurant and food chains. At its processing plant in Tracy, a majority of the people who do the work actually are employed by two temporary staffing agencies and not by Taylor Farms. One of these agencies, known as Slingshot, has its office on the company’s premises, and Taylor is its only customer.
“I have been a temp worker for the last ten years, ever since I received my first paycheck,” said Jose Gonzalez, who works at Taylor Farms, but is employed by a labor contractor called Slingshot. “To me this is hurtful. I am being robbed of the fruits of my labor every hour I work. Why not pay me the money going to the temporary agency for my labor? As a temp worker I have no health care, sick or vacation pay or retirement security. I have no future. It’s like I’m a modern-day slave.”
While its workers generated $1.8 billion in revenue for the company in 2012 — 4 ½ times the company’s revenue just seven years before — Taylor claims that it has no responsibility for how its “temporary” workers are treated:
- Many workers are paid a minimum wage of $8 an hour with no benefits and no guarantee that they will have a job the next day. Many have reported wage theft and there is currently a wage theft lawsuit pending against the company.
- Workers have been fired once they become injured or ill; as a result, others fear reporting injuries.
- They may be denied days off to care for a sick child or family member.
- They face ethnic discrimination, sexual harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- Workers are confronted by dangerous working conditions every day. Some work in rooms with temperatures as low as 34 degrees. Taylor Farms fails to provide workers with protective gear to shield them from fumes that cause dizziness and gagging. Workers often have to provide their own safety equipment like gloves and warm clothes. Workers have been ordered to remove bio-hazards without protective gear.
- Workers are denied breaks to use the bathroom.
“Currently, there’s no law to stop corporations from playing a shell game that exploits low-wage workers and their families. With AB 1897, that’s going to change,” said California Labor Federation executive secretary-treasurer Art Pulaski. “This bill ensures unscrupulous companies are held accountable for violations of workers’ rights committed by their labor contractors. It’s the right thing to do, and a fair way to do it.”
Fed up with the low pay, dangerous working conditions, and a lack of opportunity, 900 workers at Taylor Farms, many of them Latino immigrants, have joined together to form a union. The workers in Tracy know the benefits a union can bring because Taylor Farms workers at a facility in nearby Salinas, Calif. have been members of the Teamsters Union for 17 years.
While the work is similar, pay and working conditions are much better in Salinas. The 2,500 workers in Salinas earn an average of $2.50 an hour more than in Tracy. They also have access to good healthcare, a 401(k) plan, paid vacation, and paid sick days.
Besides trying to form a union, Taylor Farms workers in Tracy have filed complaints with Cal/OSHA, and the state Labor Commissioner is investigating working conditions and wage theft at their facility.
There is also an ongoing lawsuit in federal court over the failure to pay wages for all hours worked at the plant.
“Food processing workers are joining fast food, Walmart, car wash and warehouse workers in standing up for themselves,” Hoffa said. “They are standing up for an America where people who work can support themselves and raise a family.”
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.