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Workers Win Big in California This Week

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 01, 2016 6:58 AM

May Day came a bit early for workers in the Golden State as the Supreme Court and the state government handed organized labor two major wins. In Washington, D.C., a deadlocked Supreme Court decision helped save public labor unions from a major challenge. In Sacramento, Governor Jerry Brown announced that he would raise the state's minimum wage by 50 percent, to $15 an hour.

Let's take a look at these recent victories.

The Supreme Court Saves Union Agency Fees

If you work in state government and are represented by a public union in California, you don't have to sign up for union membership. But, you still have to pay. Under California law, non-union members who benefit from collective bargaining agreements negotiated by public unions are required to pay an agency fee, roughly the equivalent to normal union dues. For unions, these fees can be a major source of funding. For challengers who brought their case to the Supreme Court, the fees were a violation of their First Amendment rights, forcing them to pay for speech they opposed.

When the case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, was argued before the Court in January, it looked like a majority of the justices were ready to strike down the agency fee laws, and the long-standing precedent they were based on. Then Scalia died. On Tuesday, a deadlocked Supreme Court issued a one-sentence ruling upholding the status quo -- and saving agency fees in the process.

Highest Minimum Wage in the Land

In another win for labor, the Governor announced recently that he'd come to a compromise on increased minimum wage. Labor advocates have long fought for a $15 minimum wage, more than twice the federal minimum. And they've been winning victories city-by-city. (A $15 minimum is now the law in SeaTac, a Seattle suburb, and will soon be standard in San Francisco and Seattle.) But with California, they've got their first (potential) state-wide win.

California already had the highest state minimum wage in the country. Under the new plan, it will be even higher. If Senate Bill 3 becomes law -- and it almost certainly will, perhaps even today -- the state's minimum wage will slowly begin increasing, hitting $15 by 2022. Businesses with less than 25 employees will have an extra year to reach the new high.

For lawyers, the higher wage could bring significant opportunities, as companies adopt to the new pay requirements. Expect wage and hour claims to go up in the first few years, along with the need for attorney-assisted compliance programs. That's reason enough to join labor in their celebrations.

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