Members of the California Assembly's Committee of Labor and Employment are attempting to pass a bill that will require state employers to provide existing employees with more work hours before hiring new workers.

The bill, AB 5, was introduced by assembly committee members Lorena S. Gonzalez Fletcher and Ash Kalra and contains the Opportunity to Work Act. It was first introduced on Dec. 5, and the committee voted on it on April 20, with five affirmative answers and two noes.  

The Opportunity to Work Act would "require an employer with 10 or more employees to offer additional hours of work to an existing nonexempt employee" before being permitted to hire more employees, according to the assembly bill. Additionally, the legislation would allow employees to take legal action if an employer did not abide by the law, and such a violation could prompt a civil punishment.

Although the bill is currently stalled, if it were to be passed, it could benefit many California workers who desire more work hours but are denied. Susan Bisom-Rapp, the associate dean for faculty research and scholarship and professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said AB 5 could bring significant attention to the surprising number of involuntary part-time workers, as noted by a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report stating that more than 920,000 employees were involuntarily working part-time.

"AB 5 is an effort to increase hours of an employer’s existing workforce – it aims to break the cycle of part-time hiring that has increased since the Great Recession," Bisom-Rapp told the Northern California Record. "Employers in certain industries treat part-time hiring as the norm because such jobs have lower pay rates than full-time jobs and fewer or no employee benefits, such as pensions, healthcare coverage, and vacation.  It saves a lot of money to hire part-time. Yet, it puts great economic stress on those individuals who often have to work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet."

Although the bill could help those desiring more work hours, Bisom-Rapp said it may be difficult to pass, especially seeing as the Assembly committee's April 19 hearing resulted in only 12 organizations supporting AB 5 and 117 opposing it.

"Despite addressing a significant problem for low-wage, part-time workers, AB 5 may run into difficulty being passed due to extensive opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce and a host of employer associations," Bisom-Rapp said. "The opponents may be able to better leverage 'sound bites' related to the bill. I’ve yet to see any empirical proof that the bill would cause massive job losses. Yet the initial reaction to it was for the opposition to label AB 5 a 'job killer.'  That kind of language, even if unfounded, might chill support in the legislature."

Passing the bill could be a challenge but if the goal is to make California's workforce stronger, it has likely not been proven to be a lost cause just yet.

"My understanding is that the bill has been shelved for the year," Bisom-Rapp said. "That should give Assemblymember Gonzalez Fletcher time to examine those local ordinances, interact with opponents and, hopefully, refine the bill."  

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