Builds on existing bureau to expand DOJ’s capacity to protect the health, safety, and rights of workers in California and across the country
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced that he has established the Worker Rights and Fair Labor Section (Section) within the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Division of Public Rights. Initially operating as a bureau within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, the establishment of the unit as a new section will expand DOJ’s capacity to protect the health, safety, and rights of workers. With California and states nationwide continuing to confront the effects of the coronavirus and a rapidly transforming workplace, Attorney General Becerra remains committed — at a time when it is more important than ever — to strengthening DOJ’s ability to stand up for labor rights in the state and across the country.
“California is the economic engine of the United States and it’s our workers who supply the horsepower to make that possible,” said Attorney General Becerra. “I established the Worker Rights and Fair Labor Section to better protect hardworking Californians and give them confidence that our laws will be vigorously enforced.”
"The violation of workers' basic rights has a ripple effect that leads to a host of consequences for families, communities, and our state's economy," said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski. "We have known Attorney General Becerra a long time and he has consistently supported the rights of our state’s workforce. We commend Attorney General Becerra for taking an aggressive approach to fight wage theft and other crimes against workers. With this new section of the Department of Justice, California continues to set an example for the rest of the nation with bold action to protect working people."
"On behalf of our nearly half a million construction workers, we are grateful to California Attorney General Becerra for recognizing the need to further protect workers," said President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council Robbie Hunter. "Workers across the state and from every sector will be more secure because of Xavier Becerra’s leadership in the creation of the Worker Rights and Fair Labor Section of the California Attorney General’s Office."
Protecting and enhancing the rights of workers is of the utmost importance to the well-being of California, its communities, and its economy. With nearly 20 million people in California’s workforce in industries ranging from agriculture and construction to information technology and entertainment, the Section will use the law enforcement powers of the Attorney General’s Office to continue to stand up for everyone working in the state — no matter where they come from. As part of that effort, the Section will work with stakeholders across the board — including federal, state, and local enforcement agencies — to ensure fair labor and business practices.
Expanding on and elevating DOJ’s existing efforts, the Section will, among other things, help bring increased focus and expertise to implement policy and protect against workplace issues — including in the underground economy — such as:
Wage theft, working with partner agencies to help address systemic deficiencies that result in workers losing out on the wages they are due, including in instances where businesses fail to pay overtime or allow for meal and rest breaks;
Health and safety violations, stepping up DOJ’s ability to tackle current and emerging trends such as those brought on by the coronavirus; and
Employee misclassification, protecting workers from being inappropriately classified as independent contractors, which can allow companies to evade legal obligations such as minimum wage, sick leave, and overtime.
Under Attorney General Becerra and as a bureau, the worker rights and fair labor team has helped DOJ protect hardworking Americans and their families in California and across the country. In December of 2020, the Attorney General’s Office took action in court against Amazon as part of an ongoing investigation into the company’s coronavirus policies and protocols. The Attorney General also pushed back on a Trump Administration effort to effectively rip wages away from essential farmworkers. In November of 2020, Attorney General Becerra secured a court decision protecting the rights of more than half a million healthcare workers in California’s In-Home Supportive Services program. He also urged the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to adopt an emergency temporary standard aimed at protecting workers across California from exposure to COVID-19, which was approved unanimously that same week. In October of 2020, the Attorney General secured an appellate court decision against Uber and Lyft as part of an ongoing case involving employee classification in the state. In March of 2020, the Attorney General filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration's efforts to preempt state law and undermine worker protections with regards to meal and rest breaks. In 2019, Attorney General Becerra — alongside the California Labor Commissioner’s Office — filed criminal charges against the operators of an alleged illegal garment shop licensing scheme. He also secured settlements with four major fast food companies to end the use of “no-poach policies” that harm workers by making it more difficult to seek better pay and benefits at competing franchises.