Skip to content

Press Release

New UCLA Report: Corporate Ballot Initiative Would Open Workers Up to Wage Theft, Abuse


By Emily Jo Wharry

For Immediate Release
February 15, 2024
Contact: Emily Jo Wharry, UCLA Labor Center,, (310) 617-5609 

LOS ANGELES – On February 15, the UCLA Labor Center, PowerSwitch Action, and the Center for Popular Democracy released a new report, the first examining the impact of a ballot initiative on workers’ ability to fight workplace abuses, including the theft of billions in wages from their paychecks and violations of sick leave and workplace safety rules.  

“A Shrinking Toolbox: The Corporate Efforts to Eliminate PAGA and Limit California Workers’ Rights” examines a proposal that would strip workers of critical tools needed to enforce their legal rights and weaken the state’s already overwhelmed system for enforcing labor laws. The measure would expressly repeal the Private Attorneys General Act, a 2004 law empowering whistleblowers to file lawsuits on behalf of the state all exploited workers at a company. But the proposed law goes beyond eliminating PAGA, with broad and destructive effects on the entire structure of labor law enforcement in California.

 In other words, workers will be more vulnerable to labor violations and employers will face fewer consequences for exploiting their workforce.   

PAGA has become an increasingly important tool for workers to enforce their rights and to change illegal corporate behavior. After decades of attacks on workers’ rights, unions remain out of reach to workers because of our skewed labor laws; corporations have succeeded in forcing 8 in 10 workers into arbitration clauses that limit their access to justice; and the government agencies charged with enforcing our laws are woefully under-resourced. 

The report finds proposed changes to the Labor Code would eliminate PAGA and further limit workers access to justice by: 

  • Eliminating powerful incentives for corporations to follow the law. PAGA has a significant deterrent effect, with corporations on notice that there are significant consequences for failing to comply with labor law. 
  • Stripping the Labor Commissioner of power to enforce violations, creating a “free pass” for lawbreaking employers whereby they could “correct” violations “without penalty” — removing incentives to follow the law.  
  • Slashing funding for labor law enforcement.  Fines assessed in PAGA cases fund state enforcement agencies. In the last year alone, lawbreaking employers were required to hand over over $200 million in civil penalties and fees that fund education for workers on their rights and enforcement of laws. The measure would also cost the state an estimated $100 million annually, while diverting scarce resources into employer-servicing activities rather than enforcing workers’ rights.
  • Creating a “bait and switch” for workers subject to mandatory arbitration. Employer groups claim that pursuing wage claims through the Labor Commissioner’s office is more effective for workers seeking justice, but this isn’t an option for many workers forced into arbitration agreements. Eliminating PAGA would “shut the courthouse door on the millions of California workers on whom [corporations] have imposed forced arbitration.” 
  • Threatening “strategic enforcement partnerships” between enforcement agencies and community organizations, relationships that have significantly increased recovery of workers’ stolen wages. 

“This proposal would eliminate PAGA, one of California workers’ strongest remaining tools for preventing and correcting wage theft and other workplace abuses,” said Tia Koonse, UCLA Labor Center. “Our report sheds light on the devastating consequences this measure would have on workers’ ability to pursue justice not only through the courts but also through community collaboration and state enforcement agencies.

“Corporations are aiming to buy themselves a ‘get out of jail free card’ for labor abuses,” said Minsu Longiaru, Senior Staff Attorney for PowerSwitch Action.  “California must stand up for PAGA and send a clear message to big companies that stealing from people’s paychecks has consequences.”

“One in three Californians works in jobs with low wages, where employers pervasively violate their rights. Most are workers of color, making protecting PAGA a critical equity issue for California and a threshold for workers’ rights around the nation,” said Marc Rodrigues, Research Analyst for the Center for Popular Democracy.

Download the report:


About the UCLA Labor Center:

The UCLA Labor Center believes that a public university belongs to the people and should advance quality education and employment for all. Every day we bring together workers, students, faculty, and policymakers to address the most critical issues facing working people today. Our research, education, and policy work lifts industry standards, creates jobs that are good for communities, and strengthens immigrant rights, especially for students and youth. The UCLA Labor Center is housed in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, a multidisciplinary research center dedicated to the study, teaching, and discussion of labor and employment issues at UCLA. Learn more: 

About PowerSwitch Action:

PowerSwitch Action is a national community of leaders, organizers, and strategists forging multiracial feminist democracy and economies in our cities and towns. Our network of 21 grassroots affiliates weaves strategic alliances and alignments amongst labor, neighborhood, housing, racial justice, faith, ethnic-based, and environmental organizations. Together, we’re building people power and people’s institutions. We win innovative public policy and rein in greedy corporations to realize our collective freedom and liberation. Learn more:

About the Center for Popular Democracy: 

The Center for Popular Democracy works to create equity, opportunity and a dynamic democracy in partnership with high-impact base-building organizations, organizing alliances, and progressive unions. CPD strengthens our collective capacity to envision and win an innovative pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial and economic justice agenda. Learn more: