Wage liens are an old remedy to injustices committed against workers who are not paid their wages. Currently NDLON-California and the Wage Lien Coalition are organizing to pass the California Wage Lien Bill.
The CA Wage Lien was initially introduced two years ago in the Assembly as AB 2517 (Eng, D-Monterey Park), but did not gather the necessary votes to pass and died in the Assembly floor, due to the efforts of the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) and its coalition.
“Last year there were only 4 or 5 organizations behind the Wage Lien Bill and it didn’t pass because of opposition from banks, mortgage company brokers and big business interests,” said Charlotte Noss, Skadden Fellow of The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.
This year there are at least 26 legal organizations, work centers and labor unions backing the bill including The Legal Aid Society, the California Immigrant Policy Center, the Clean Carwash Campaign in LA and the California Labor Federation.
Currently, the Mechanics Lien Law exists as a method to ensure that only construction workers are adequately compensated for their labor. With this, construction workers who are owed money can go to the county reporters office and file a lawsuit, which will hold the owner liable for wages not paid—making it hard to sell that property.
Also, Mechanics Lien Law only allows 90 after the work stops to file the lien, and 90 subsequent days to file an action to enforce it. This lien does not include penalties for unpaid wages and applies only to the property where the work was done—not the employer.
The new CA Wage Lien Bill will expand on the Mechanics Lien allowing workers from all industries to file a lien without an attorney. It will also give the worker one year to file a lien and another to litigate if wages are not paid. The lien will apply the owner’s property and all property related to work, and will collect unpaid salaries, penalties, interests, and attorney fees.
In San Francisco, no group since “Grupo Unido” which closed in 2009 has been formed to defend day laborers in a practical and legal manner. “The Grupo Unido Clinic opened 25 times per year. In the beginning they only took on 4 or 5 cases per year, and then took on about 20 per year. In 2009 $130,000 were recovered in unpaid wages for day laborers and between $80,000 and $90,000 dollars in 2008,” said Jose Ramirez, member of the San Francisco Day Labor Program and former collaborator of Grupo Unido.
According to Noss, the most impactful strategy against opposition is for workers to go to Sacramento to tell their stories and testify with legislators. The CA Wage Lien Coalition is currently looking for a legislator to author the bill.
By Marianella Aguirre