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After Twitter layoffs, California bill would strengthen protections for workers

The technology industry has been hit by waves of layoffs, with tens of thousands of workers losing their jobs in recent months. After Tesla billionaire Elon Musk took over Twitter in October, abruptly cut nearly half its workforcethen came back for more.

But all that turmoil may lead to stronger firing protections for millions of California workers.

Citing recent events in the tech industry, state legislators introduced a bill that would require employers to give workers notice of mass layoffs and extend these protections to contract workers, who are currently excluded by state and federal law. .

“Innovative industries like technology are a critical part of our state’s economy, and we know technology companies start here and grow here because of our highly-skilled workforce,” said Assemblyman Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) , who introduced the legislation, in a statement. “This bill is about protecting that workforce, from engineers to janitors, and making sure they are treated fairly during a job transition. To be professional tech, we have to be professional tech workers.”

He proposed legislation would require employers laying off more than 50 workers at a time to give employees 90 days’ notice. It would also prohibit employers from pressuring workers to give up their rights through resignations, confidentiality agreements or non-disparagement agreements in exchange for severance pay.

Reducing the use of such agreements would be a breakthrough for the tech industry, which has come under fire for tying severance packages to non-disparagement agreements.

On Twitter, for example, when the laid-off workers received their severance payments months later, they came up with some attached main strings: To get the money, leaving employees had to give up their right to sue the company, help anyone in a legal case against the company unless required by law, or speak negatively about Twitter, its management or Musk.

Under the proposed bill, what Musk did on Twitter likely it would be illegal, and all agreements that waive workers’ rights would be void.

Twitter, which no longer has a communications team, did not respond to a request for comment.

Under the federal WARN Act, companies with more than 100 employees must give at least 60 days notice if they plan to lay off more than one-third of the workers at a location or more than 500 employees, regardless of percentage, within a period 30 days. An employer who violates the notice requirement may be liable for late payment for the number of days less than the 60-day requirement. Companies often offer 60 days severance pay in lieu of notice.

California’s WARN Act is even stricter and applies when there is a layoff of 50 or more employees within a 30-day period, and the employer may be liable for civil penalties in addition to back pay.

The proposed legislation, the Laid-off Worker Protection Act, also “closes loopholes” in state law to expand layoff protections to contract workers, Haney said.

“The outsourced workforce is kind of a shadow workforce. He doesn’t have the visibility or the voice or the protections of employees,” said Tim Rowley, director of operations for the PeopleCaddie staffing platform. While the spotlight has been on the layoffs of employees at big tech companies in recent months, the mass layoffs of contract workers at these same companies have gone largely unnoticed.

“When you hear about layoffs, you’re not hearing about the contractor community,” Rowley said. “A big tech company can lay off literally thousands and thousands of contractors and no one would know because they’re not required to make the same type of public announcement.”

The proposed legislation is sponsored by the TechEquity Collaborative, the California Labor Federation, the National Employment Law Project, Justice for Temporary Workers, the National Legal Advocacy Network, the California Employment Lawyers Association. and CWA-Alphabet Workers Union.

“One of the worst parts of the work-for-hire structure is the lack of severance pay and the lack of forms of compensation that last after being laid off, like 401(k)s, vested stock options, etc. that directly employed workers get,” David Jones-Krause, a former contract worker at Google and member of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, in a statement. “Even if they get fired, they’ll walk away with all that stuff, we won’t.”

Across industries, the widespread reliance on contractors has resulted in the creation of a “second-tier workforce” whose members are more likely to be people of color, said Laura Padin, director of employment structures at the National Employment Law Project. .

“The fact that contract workers receive no warning in a mass layoff only exacerbates these inhumane conditions,” Padin said. “Contract workers, like all workers, deserve proper notice so they aren’t left out when the layoffs come.”

The contract workforce is also under scrutiny at the federal level.

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board determined that Google is a “joint employer” of a group of Texas-based YouTube workers hired to work for the company by an employment agency. For collective bargaining purposes, if workers vote to unionize, Google is legally their boss, exercising “direct and immediate control over benefits, work hours, supervision and direction of the job,” the regional director of labor wrote. the NLRB in the ruling. .

Google has said the outsourced workers are not its employees and could appeal the ruling.

Times Staff Writer jamie ding contributed to this report.