With our state finally opening up on June 15th, after more than a year of stifling restrictions and lockdowns, businesses from retail to movie theaters are at last being allowed to fully open their doors. It appears that the long-awaited light has finally appeared at the end of the tunnel. However, the fight for normalcy is nowhere near over, especially for employers and employees, as the push to jump-start California’s economy and lower our current unemployment rate continues. Unfortunately, there are certain decisions being made by leaders in Sacramento, like California’s Assembly Bill 701, that will hurt the economy and destroy opportunities for working-class Californians.
California is not alone, the nation as a whole is still struggling to recover from the pandemic-induced economic recession. The national unemployment rate is six percent and there are 8.4 million fewer people in the workforce compared to pre-pandemic times according to the Labor Department. The pandemic changed our lives in a multitude of ways, but what hasn’t changed is the economic anxiety felt acutely by low-income families trying to put food on the table. And in California and elsewhere, low-income and marginalized communities have been hit hardest by the job losses and economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.
With California’s unemployment rate still sitting at eight percent, our state can ill afford to support policies and legislation that will kill jobs, and further hurt these communities. However, Assembly Bill 701, which recently passed through the California General Assembly and is now in the State Senate, will do just that.
There are many components of this bill that will hurt job creators, and risk job losses. One such provision encourages frivolous lawsuits. Businesses across the state are already running on tight margins and struggling to keep their doors open and their workers employed. Just one unfounded lawsuit could force some to close for good – even if the employer ends up being proven innocent.
And it’s not only frivolous lawsuits that businesses would have to face if AB 701 becomes law. This bill sets up a process that, as long as an employee continuously files lawsuits against an employer, they cannot be disciplined or fired – even for cause – or the employer could get sued as a result.
This bill establishes all these additional restrictions on business owners without providing substantial benefits to workers. AB 701 has been framed by its supporters as a way to increase safety for workers, but implementing quotas that flout existing health and safety laws is already illegal in California.
It is especially disappointing to see this bill go after warehouses distribution centers during a global pandemic when warehouses have played a vital role in getting essential supplies to Californians, many of whom were forced to remain at home to stay safe and healthy.
Employers and employees alike have been working tirelessly to improve California’s economy during these difficult times. As the state finally reopens, and our economy begins to regain its footing, we need to be doing all we can to accelerate the process rather than hinder it. For this reason, I am hopeful that State Senators on both sides of the aisle will understand the importance of not moving forward with this job-killing bill.
Andrew Sarega is a city councilman in La Mirada, CA.