California workers are getting new protections in 2023 despite companies' opposition

Josue Torres
Photo byCanva Pro

A wide range of Californians, from white-collar professionals to blue-collar agricultural laborers, fast-food servers, and construction workers, are expected to benefit in 2023 from new, far-reaching legislation that aims to improve working conditions.

Officials' newest efforts include measures mandating pay transparency, extending family leave, and allowing for bereavement leave. But there is still a great deal of work to be done.

A lack of understanding of the economic realities and regulatory challenges employers, particularly small business employers, face as they continue to recover from the pandemic was reflected in the demise of 17 out of 19 bills that the California Chamber of Commerce had dubbed “job killers,” according to the organization.

One of the most contentious new rules, intended to standardize industry-wide pay and working conditions for fast-food businesses, has been put on hold as opponents strive to get it overturned through a proposed ballot initiative for 2024.

Nevertheless, California increased its minimum wage to $15.50 on January 1 and began applying it to all businesses, regardless of size, in a significant victory for low-paid employees who are most impacted by the state’s high cost of living. The half-dollar increase was the outcome of a 2016 statute that required adjustments for inflation.

The salary floor for the Golden State in 2023 is the highest in the country. However, more than 30 California cities and counties — including the city of Los Angeles, which raised its floor to $16.04 in July — have implemented minimum wages that are higher than those set by the state.

The most important recent labor laws are the following:

Pay equity

Sen. Monique Limón’s (D-Santa Barbara) Senate Bill 1162 makes it difficult for women to earn less than men; and Asian, Black, and Latino workers to get paid less than their white colleagues by making businesses with 15 or more employees to disclose wage ranges to employees and include them on job listings. If they don’t comply, the California Labor Commissioner may fine them up to $10,000.

Family leave

California workers contribute to the state’s family leave program through payroll deductions, but when they give birth or have to take care of a sick relative, they usually can’t afford to miss work.

According to the California Budget and Policy Center, those in high and medium income brackets who could take a pay reduction have enrolled in the program at a four times higher rate than the lowest-paid workers.

The Legislature increased compensation to between 60% and 70% of a worker’s wage for eight weeks during the pandemic. However, that bump was due to expire this month and is still insufficient for many people who live paycheck to paycheck.

Sen. Mara Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) has now introduced Senate Bill 951, which extends the benefit by two years. By 2025, employees making $60,000 or more annually will get 70% of their normal compensation. 90% of lower-income workers’ wages will be replaced.

Bereavement leave

The author of a new bill granting Californians the right to bereavement leave, Evan Low (D-Campbell), stated that no one should fear losing their employment by taking time to grieve the loss of their loved ones.

According to Assembly Bill 1949, businesses with five or more employees in California are required to give their employees up to five days of unpaid, job-protected time off in the event of the loss of a close relative, such as a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or parent-in-law.


In California fields, more than 400,000 farmworkers annually harvest $51 billion worth of crops. The state’s workforce has a union membership rate of 16%, while less than 2% of the workforce does.

Assembly Bill 2183, a new law drafted by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), makes it simpler for these low-wage workers to form unions. Many are undocumented immigrants with limited English proficiency. 

Under present legislation, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board is in charge of monitoring union elections, which are frequently held on growers’ lands. The new law gives farmworkers the option of voting by mail or by completing a ballot card.

Fast food

With its “Fight For $15 and a Union” campaign, the Service Employees International Union, one of the biggest labor unions in the country, has been attempting to organize low-wage employees at McDonald’s and other fast-food franchises for more than ten years.

Assembly Bill 257, a proposed proposal supported by the SEIU, would establish a daring precedent by establishing a 10-member Fast Food Council to control pay, hours, and working conditions for chains with at least 100 locations across the country. The pioneering organization would comprise state leaders, business representatives, and worker delegates.

However, with the support of the California Chamber, corporate behemoths like In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Starbucks have gathered a million signatures for a 2024 vote to repeal the law and convinced a court to delay its implementation.

The council may increase pay to as much as $22 per hour if the Fast Recovery Act, also known as the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, is successful.

The strategy is similar to sectoral bargaining in Europe, but it differs significantly from U.S. practice, where unions often focus on only one company at a time.

Industry organizations assert that the bill would result in increased menu pricing and, for employees, fewer hours or layoffs, despite labor unions’ claims that it would provide workers a voice in the workplace in the absence of collective bargaining.

Construction pay

Construction workers on residential projects typically make less money than those on commercial projects funded by the government, which are required to pay prevailing rates, which generally are union-scale salaries. In accordance with two recent rules, Senate Bill 6 and Assembly Bill 2011, developments for affordable housing in areas that were formerly designated for commercial use must pay those higher salaries.

Comments / 16

Published by

Journalist. Covering relevant and meaningful everyday topics.

San Francisco, CA

More from Josue Torres

Comments / 0