California is known around the world as a worker-friendly environment, a state replete with laws and regulations friendly to the worker. But all of this is misleading. It turns out that there is, on a percentage basis, virtually no enforcement of California Labor Law. Sweatshop conditions are rampant, and now even ordinary workers have no hope of getting justice when their employer flagrantly violates the law. And the department charged with enforcing these laws has developed a perfect strategy for undermining enforcement of these laws.
The California Labor Commissioner’s Office through their Department of Labor Standards Enforcement division has set up a system of so-called enforcement of labor laws which ensures that, having once filed a claim against an employer, a worker will suffer such severe consequences that he or she will never bother the Labor Department again.
Here’s how it works: The Governors of California, both Democratic and Republican are completely owned by big business and could never really get away with passing and enforcing, on a large scale, any worker’s rights laws. So here’s what they did. In order to look liberal and caring, the Governors signed most any labor law that came to their desk. But there was a catch:
They realized they could have their cake and eat it to. They could simply pass all the worker-friendly labor laws they wanted to, and then simply not fund the enforcement division of the Labor Commissioner’s office. The laws then, would be only sybolic, but, as a practical matter, nonexistent.
Specifically, the Labor Department more or less banned spot-checking. Spot-checking, in labor law enforcement is like patrolling for the police department. That is, a criminal doesn’t merely have to worry about someone calling the police on him, the police arriving at some future time and perhaps being in the mood to look for him. The criminal knows that policemen are driving by, almost randomly, and whether or not a citizen reports their crimes, the truth is, a policeman might see it. In the same way, for labor law to be effective, spot checking need to happen. This would make the employer afraid that he would get caught if he violated the law, even if no employee reported the violation.
As the system is now, the Labor Commissioner all but forbids the enforcement division to do spot checking. And the Governors, who are in the pockets of big business, simply defund the Labor Department to the point where, even if they wanted to do spot checking, they wouldn’t have the people or resources to do it.
But the most evil part of this plot is that means when a violation is reported to the Labor Commissioner, the employer knows his worker is responsible for the claim, and, to make matters worse, the Labor Department makes sure that the whole matter boils down to this one complainer, who inevitably looses his job. (The Labor Department will claim that retaliation against a complaining employee is illegal, but then, like all the other laws, that law isn’t enforced either.)
Now, the ironic thing is this: An employer who works for a company that, as a matter of routine, cheats every employee out his legally required breaks, or cheats every employee on every paycheck can have an enforcement action taken against it, and this is how they will do it. They will punish the whistleblower by using this method: First, an employee walks into the Labor Commissioner’s office and says, “You should go and see what’s happening at the corporation I work for. Every worker has five dollars stolen from his check every week.” Now, at this point, instead of sending an investigator to snoop around, ask the other workers and speak to the employer, this is what the Labor Department will do: They will pretend they didn’t hear about the system-wide violations, and consistently ask over and over again that the worker confine his claim to only his or her single paycheck issue. So the worker, if cheated out of a hundred dollars, will get their hundred dollars paid to them, but at the cost of their jobs, which the Labor Commissioner falsely pretends he will protect. Then, get this, regarding the millions of other dollars in breaks and in lost pay, the corporation will be let off completely free. Each worker would be forced, one at a time, to publically declare that they are reporting their boss, at which point they individually are retaliated against.
Except for two or three carefully planned showcases, per year, against politically unpopular companies, who can’t cause the Governor any problems, and whose campaign contributions won’t be missed, will be punished on a wide scale. This would be along the lines of punishing one mafia kingpin per year that didn’t pay his bribes, and then letting the entirety of the rest of the mafia proceed with their crimes. In fact, the Labor Department really represents the essence of a State Government by Orgainized Crime. The Governor takes the campaign contribution bribes and, in exchange, appoints an impotent Labor Commissioner. (Our current Republican Governor won’t even appoint a Labor Commissioner and has brazenly left the seat vacant.) Then the impotent, unfunded Labor Commissioner orders all his workers to stay at their desks and never to spot check any employers. Then, the hapless workers who come in to report massive, system-wide violations against thousands of employees are told that the whole case will boil down to their own particular claim for back wages. Then, the foolish worker is forced to announce to the world that he and only he has complained against his boss. A few months later this worker receives his $100 back pay and then must report to the unemployment line, where, incidentally, he will be denied unemployment because he has quit his job. (Employers found out that as long as you don’t fire a worker, you can torture them almost limitlessly until they quit. Then, after the worker quits, the employer also gets out of paying a higher percentage to the unemployment department. So now the complaining worker is out of a job and can’t collect unemployment and could be in danger of homelessness, as he sits there ironically with his $100 check.)
California, in a word, through the cold, heartless, caluculating evil of the Labor Commissioner’s office’s Department of Labor Standards Enforcement is really a third-world dictatorship style nightmare. Shockingly, this is our State of California today.