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Schwarzenegger vetoes bills protecting hourly workers

Measures would have made it a crime for employers to withhold wages when a worker leaves and raised the damage cap for employees who sue.

September 28, 2010|By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday vetoed a pair of bills aimed at curbing theft by employers of wages paid to hourly workers.

The most controversial of the two measures, backed by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, would have created a new misdemeanor crime for employers that willfully fail to pay all wages within 90 days after a worker leaves.

A second bill would have increased the maximum amount of damages that a worker could be awarded in a wage-related legal dispute or state enforcement action.

The bills were introduced in response to a UCLA study that found that wage theft costs Los Angeles County workers $26 million a week.

The survey, released this year as part of a national project, found that workers who experienced some type of wage theft lost an average of about $40 from typical weekly earnings of $318. Much of the wage loss came from employers paying less than the state-mandated minimum wage of $8 an hour.

Schwarzenegger in his veto messages said both bills were not needed.

"Waiting time penalties and defined time frames for the payment of final wages currently exist in California law as do mechanisms for enforcement of these obligations," the governor wrote.

Proponents of the bills — AB 1881 by Assemblyman William Monning (D- Monterey) and AB 2187 by Assemblyman Juan Arambula (I- Fresno) — said the governor's vetoes offered protection to unscrupulous employers.

"This Republican governor, like all recent Republican governors, has been content to leave state labor agencies underfunded and to aggressively restrict expansion of private remedies for enforcement," said Mark Schacht, deputy director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Schacht said the vetoes essentially defend "the worst actors in the underground economy, and the governor and his allies at the Chamber of Commerce know it."

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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