A new law was signed over the weekend to prevent child labor exploitation.
SACRAMENTO ― California high school students will learn about their rights at work and how to defend themselves against workplace abuses under a first-of-its-kind law just signed by Governor Gavin Newsom over the weekend.
AB 800, authored by Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-San Leandro), creates a Workplace Readiness Week at all public high schools to teach students about their workplace rights, protections for minors on the job, and how to join or start a union. The Governor announced the law’s passage on Saturday.
“I am so proud to announce the passage of this first-of-its-kind law requiring schools to teach our kids about their workplace rights,” said Assemblymember Ortega. “We are seeing headlines about children abused at workplaces across the country―wage theft, violations of labor law, and even serious life-changing injuries. As Republicans in other states are working hard to put our children in harm’s way, California is giving kids the tools to stand up for themselves.”
Despite an uptick in reports of serious workplace injuries and abuse involving minors, a number of Republican-controlled states have passed laws loosening protections for minors. Arkansas and Iowa recently lowered the age at which minors can legally work. In those states, children as young as 14 can now legally work in meat coolers and industrial laundries, and 15-year-olds may work on assembly lines.
About 55% of US teens are employed. They are more concentrated in fields where wage theft is common and are more likely to be seriously injured while working with machinery. In 2021, 109 teenagers died from work-related injuries in the United States. That same year, over 33,000 teens suffered workplace injuries so severe that they needed to go to the emergency room.
“Youth are having their wages stolen and being seriously injured at work because they don’t know that they have a right to demand safety and hold their employers accountable,” continued Asm. Ortega. “Teaching our youth about their rights at work is essential education―and it could save their lives.”
“Too often, young workers face wage theft, unsafe conditions, sexual harassment or other abuses at work,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, chief officer of the California Labor Federation. “By requiring that high school students be taught their rights as employees, AB 800 empowers young people with the information and tools they need to understand their rights as workers and protects them against workplace abuses.”
In 2021, California workers filed nearly 19,000 claims for unpaid wages totaling more than $338 million in stolen wages. The fields in which young people tend to be concentrated – food service, retail, childcare, office support – account for almost half (44.2%) of those wage theft claims. These jobs also have high rates of sexual harassment, abuse from management or clientele, discrimination, and serious injury.
Assemblymember Liz Ortega is a member of the Assembly Committees on Higher Education, Insurance, Labor and Employment, Public Safety and Rules. She represents the 20th Assembly District, encompassing all or a portion of the cities of Hayward, San Leandro, Union City, Dublin, Pleasanton and the unincorporated areas of Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, San Lorenzo, and Castro Valley