Businesspeople irate about California’s so-called PAGA law got a sympathetic hearing Wednesday from Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian during a breakfast meeting organized by the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.
However, Nazarian stopped short of vowing to work to kill PAGA in the state legislature, and he did not say he’d make PAGA a priority. He did say he attended the meeting to hear and understand the complaints of businesses, and he was “happy to work with you (the business community),” to explore ways to possibly mitigate the law.
PAGA stands for the Private Attorney General Act, a unique law in California that allows employees to act as a state agency and file lawsuits against employers for alleged violations of labor codes. The law has been around since 2004, but as plaintiffs’ lawyers have become more adept at wielding it in recent years, businesses are reacting with heightened alarm as minor violations can get turbocharged by PAGA and result in eye-popping penalties – not to mention legal defense fees.
For example, Tom Manzo, president of Timely Prefinished Steel Door Frames in Pacoima, told the crowd that some of his early arriving employees chose to delay their lunch break so they could eat with their colleagues at the usual 1:10 p.m. break. But the labor code says employees must have a lunch break no more than five hours after starting their workday. Some disgruntled employees filed a PAGA suit, and because of the way the law compounds penalties for infractions, the company now is looking at a settlement that could well exceed $1 million – plus legal fees.
Several in the crowd expressed the view that some laws, like PAGA, may have been well intentioned at first but eventually devolve and become abusive to businesses. And legislators seem oblivious to the rough treatment of businesses.
Nazarian, who represents a central part of the San Fernando Valley, said he wanted something to result from the meeting. He said anti-PAGA legislation may not be the best route, saying that would be complicated and difficult, and mentioned budgetary action. He also suggested a working group be formed from the more than 30 businesspeople who attended the meeting, which was held at VICA’s office in Van Nuys and hosted by Leavitt Group. The group could look at possible ways to deal with PAGA.
After the meeting, Manzo said he was disappointed. “Politicians do not even understand the laws they have put in place and the effects they have on businesses,” he said.