On June 9, Californians for Fair Pay and Accountability submitted over 638,000 signatures for a ballot initiative that would repeal the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), which allows employees to sue employers and collect a share of monetary penalties for state labor law violations, and replace it with a new law to litigate and penalize employment violations.
The campaign intended to place the initiative on the November ballot later this year, but on May 12, they announced that they would submit signatures for verification after the suggested deadline and target the 2024 ballot.
Currently, under PAGA, which was adopted in 2004, employees have a private right of action to collect civil penalties for violations against the state’s labor code without state intervention on behalf of the employees. Before pursuing a lawsuit under PAGA, an employee must first notify the state of the alleged violation. If the state does not investigate the violation, the employee may proceed with the lawsuit. According to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, approximately 5,000 PAGA notices are filed annually. Any penalties won under PAGA must be split between the employees (25%) and the state of California (75%). PAGA also allows individual employees to seek civil penalties on behalf of other aggrieved employees.
The new law would double statutory and civil penalties for willful violators; require that 100% of monetary penalties, rather than the current 25%, be awarded to harmed employees; and provide resources to employers to ensure labor compliance. The law would require that the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) be a party to all labor complaints filed with the Labor Commissioner. It would not award any attorney’s fees, which are currently awarded under PAGA.
The proposed law would also create the Consultation and Policy Publication Unit with the aim of “providing information, advice, and assistance to employers, employees, and other members of the public about laws enforced by the division.” The unit would also advise employees that believe their employers are violating labor policies on where to file their complaints.
The campaign filed the initiative on October 4, 2021. The 180-day circulation deadline for the initiative was June 6, 2022. The required number of valid signatures is 623,212.
The campaign received endorsements from the Western Growers Association, California Chamber of Commerce, California New Car Dealers Association, and California Restaurant Association. The campaign has also reported over $6.9 million in contributions.
Between 2010 and 2020, an average of 87 initiatives were filed in California annually. The average number of initiatives certified during that period was 10.