Meal Period Legislation Among New Laws Signed by California’s Governor
In the last two days, Governor Schwarzenegger signed and vetoed several more pieces of employment legislation, including signing legislation that exempts certain categories of unionized employees from California's meal period laws. AB 569, which will take effect January 1, 2011, exempts construction employees, security officers in the security services industry, commercial truck drivers, and employees of electrical and gas corporations and local publicly owned electric utilities from California's meal period requirements if the employees are covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement containing meal period provisions. This is an important new law that will greatly benefit employers in these industries, many of whom have been affected by the wave of meal period litigation in California in recent years and whose operations are impaired by efforts to strictly comply with California's meal period laws on threat of additional litigation.
AB 569 contains more specific definitions of the occupations exempted from meal period requirements under this law. Employers who may benefit from this new law should review it carefully before changing policies or practices and must also understand that in order for it to apply, there must be a valid collective bargaining agreement in place containing its own meal period provisions. Although California's meal period rules are in need of much broader revamping to the benefit of all employers and employees, this new legislation is at least a start in the right direction.
In addition to signing AB 569 into law, Governor Schwarzenegger also signed SB 1304, which requires private employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to 30 days of paid leave per year to an employee for purposes of donating an organ, and up to 5 days of paid leave per year to an employee for puposes of donating bone marrow.
Finally, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 2364, which slightly broadens eligibility for unemployment compensation by providing that employees who leave their employ to protect his or her family from domestic violence abuse are eligible for benefits.
The Governor did not sign all proposed legislation increasing employee benefits, however. Notably, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 2340, which would have required employers to provide bereavement leave to employees.
The Governor also vetoed SB 1474, which would have increased union representation in the agricultural industry by allowing the Agricultural Labor Relations Board the ability to set aside electionsbased on employer misconductand to certify a labor organization as the exclusive bargaining agent based solely on signed authorization cards. In his veto message, the Governor stated that the bill's provisions represent a "serious departure from existing law" and "tip the scale in favor of the union by allowing the ALRB to consider any misconduct, which is not defined, by the employer when making the determination to set aside the election, but does not take into consideration the possibilty that the employer may have similar allegations of election misconduct by the labor organization."