Senate Bill (SB) 1818 will require state agencies and courts to apply California labor and civil rights laws equally to all workers, regardless of immigration status.
However, the final version of the bill was without its strongest provisions, financial penalties against employers for certain serious violations, because of opposition from Governor Gray Davis and business groups.
Undocumented immigrants are not allowed into the United States under federal law. Additionally, since 1986, federal law has made it an offense to knowingly employee illegal immigrants, requiring employers to demand proof of identity and work authorization.
However, the law hasn’t kept illegal immigrants out of the workplace, particularly in the lowest-paid jobs. According to estimates in the report, 70% to 90% of California’s 800,000 migrant farm workers are here illegally.
The passage of SB 1818 makes California the first state to respond to a US Supreme Court ruling in March that limited the rights of undocumented workers who are fired illegally, for reasons unrelated to immigration.
In the case, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had decided to award back pay to Jose Castro, a Los Angeles-area factory worker fired by Hoffman Plastic Compounds after taking part in a union organizing campaign.
The back pay was meant to compensate Castro for what he would have earned had he kept his job. However, after more than three years of proceedings, Castro admitted he had used fraudulent documents to enter the country, so the NLRB limited his back pay to the amount he would have made until then.
The board refused to eliminate the damages altogether, however, noting that the Supreme Court had previously ruled that labor laws applied to undocumented workers. But in the March 2002 decision, the court said awarding back pay to illegal immigrants, for periods in which they were not entitled to work, “trivializes the immigration laws” and “condones and encourages future violations.”