Workers Win 5-Year Battle for Stronger Wage Protections

Posted January 24, 2024

Local 1621 Members,

Hot of the press from the South Bay Labor Council!!!!!!!!!!

In the past 24 hours, the San Jose City Council unanimously passed the Responsible
Construction Ordinance! These victories were accomplished due to the hard work of the labor
movement and our allies. Please see the information below regarding these significant
victories.

San José Workers Win 5-Year Battle for Stronger Wage Protections

Today, the City of San José took a significant step in combating wage theft in the construction
industry by approving a Responsible Construction Ordinance (RCO). This ordinance empowers
the city to withhold certificates of occupancy for private construction projects if owners,
developers, contractors, or subcontractors have unpaid wage theft judgments. This powerful
law not only safeguards workers by preventing and prosecuting wage theft but also supports
responsible businesses that prioritize fair compensation for their employees.

This triumph is the result of a five-year campaign which brought together labor and community
allies led by Working Partnerships USA, the South Bay Labor Council, the Santa Clara Building
Trades Council, and the Wage Theft Coalition, elected representatives and local contractors who
are committed to building a city which values its workforce.

Despite roadblocks, pushback and lobbying by a few wealthy, well-connected developers, San
José Councilmembers voted to move forward with a memo which represented a fair
compromise that strikes a balance that benefits both workers and responsible businesses. The
memo, from Councilmembers Davis, Jimenez, Torres, Ortiz, and Foley satisfactorily addressed
businesses’ questions about compliance while ensuring that workers still have a robust tool to
hold perpetrators of wage theft accountable. The decision reflects a balanced approach
benefiting both workers and responsible businesses, marking a victory for labor rights and fair
business practices.

Ahead of the vote, Senator Dave Cortese sent a letter to City Council offering his support for the
powerful ordinance: “By requiring companies with outstanding unpaid final wage theft
judgments — that is, companies who are currently in violation of State law – to pay the judgment
owed before they are awarded a Certificate of Occupancy, the City’s proposed ordinance
empowers victims of wage theft to be made whole in partnership with the City.”

“This has been a long battle for worker protections, with challenges from well-connected
developers and a lack of political will. We’re grateful to our City Council champions, Davis,
Jimenez, Torres, Ortiz, and Foley, for taking accountability, and for their leadership in crafting a
compromise that truly works for working folks,” said Jean Cohen, Executive Officer, South Bay
Labor Council.

“Today, we made it clear that there is no room for wage theft in our city. The Responsible
Construction Ordinance not only protects the vital construction workforce but also sets a strong
example for implementing fair work standards across various sectors, including fast food and
childcare,” says Maria Noel Fernandez, Executive Director of Working Partnerships USA.

Thank you to all of the union members and community partners for speaking and advocating in
support of the ordinance.

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