(June 22, 2023) A California Chamber of Commerce job killer bill that will create a new private right of action and add new penalties on grocery employers is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee today.
The bill, AB 647 (Holden; D-Pasadena), significantly expands the statute related to successor grocery employers, including disrupting the ability for independent small stores to join together, expands the number of workers covered under the law, and creates a significant new private right of action.
AB 647 expands the list of eligible grocery workers covered by worker retention and private right of action conditions to include a newly defined “separated employee.”
The broad definition of “separated employee” includes any employee employed by a grocer impacted by a change in ownership that was employed for 6 months or more in the 12 months preceding the change in store control and whose most recent separation was due to change in control, lack of business, reduction in force, or transfer.
Employee separation occurs for many reasons, including by choice. Under AB 647 grocers would now have to reenlist “separated employees” within an arbitrary 15-mile radius of their residence, even if that employee separated by choice.
In a letter sent to legislators last week, the CalChamber pointed out that the bill ties a grocer employer’s hands in hiring decisions, which may negatively affect current grocery employees during the transition period.
New Private Right of Action
AB 647 creates a private right of action by granting employees, collective bargaining representatives and nonprofit corporations the right to bring action in superior court for violations of an employee’s right. The bill has a broad list of remedies, including hiring and reinstatement rights, front pay or back pay for each day during which the violation continues, the value of the benefits the employee would have received under any benefit plans, and attorney’s fees and costs to any employee or employee representative.
The bill also creates a rebuttable presumption that any employee’s termination within a year of change of ownership was due to nondisciplinary reasons. It then goes further by requiring the successor grocer to offer these employees right of refusal to return for employment.
This requirement could force the successor grocer to rehire employees dismissed for cause, the CalChamber said.