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North State businesses ask for reform of labor law violation fines
A Williams restaurant owner is hopeful Gov. Jerry Brown will help rein in the cost of punitive first-time labor law violations, but came away less assured about workers' compensation after she and several other North State business owners met with him this week.
"I met with Gov. Brown, state Labor Commissioner (Julie) Su, and Assemblyman Dan Logue (on Tuesday) at the Capitol. I have to say the meeting went very well. Gov. Brown gave rapt attention to our concerns as well as Commissioner Su," Christy Edwards stated on her Facebook account.
"We specifically asked that the state Labor Department address the following things: Change the policy of the Labor Department to one of business compliance vs. fee generation. We asked that they make the first labor violation a fix-it ticket (rather than) a fine."
Edwards attended the meeting along with two Orland men — businessman Jose Nunez and former Mayor Mike Yalow — as well as business owners from Chico and Biggs.
"We also talked about workers' comp briefly. I must say I didn't get anywhere there. His aide assured me they were working on the new reform bill that would turn comp more into managed care, but I informed him that just helped the insurance companies and did absolutely nothing for mod ratings or comp premiums or fraud cases for small businesses," Edwards wrote.
It was a meeting that Yallow and Nunez did not expect, but welcomed just the same.
Nunez was fined $3,000 about four years ago for not having a work permit in the file of a teenage employee who was hired through a school occupational program. The school agency had the paperwork, he said.
That case remains in litigation, he said, so he could not add more details at this time.
Other business owners have been fined $20,000 to $100,000 for alleged violations which have put many out of business, Yalow said.
Even those whose fines were rescinded have been out $20,000 to $50,000 in attorney fees for defending their cases, he said, which sometimes were more than the fine.
"The meeting with the governor was the most productive meeting I've ever been to in my life," Yalow added.
He and Nunez both agreed Brown sincerely wanted to hear what they had to say and talked about a lot of things related to economic development and reforms.
Logue arranged Tuesday's meeting at Brown's request.
"I was very encouraged and I think our small-business owners were, too, with the opportunity to sit down with the governor and have a conversation about job creation and express our concerns about labor law standards," Logue said in a statement. "We need to make sure that businesses are not stymied by over-regulation as we struggle to come out of this recession."
He added that Su agreed to coordinate regulatory compliance seminars in the North State to aid small-business owners, and Brown acknowledged more can be done and committed to working to improve state agency responsiveness and accountability.
This meeting came about following another meeting Logue hosted in Chico in July. There, Su heard from Nunez and other business owners upset with how labor rules were enforced out of the agency's Redding office.
She later brought these concerns to Brown, Yalow said, and this led to their trip to Sacramento.
The 90-minute meeting was very professional and allowed for solutions to be presented, Yalow said.
One potential solution was to provide better education to business owners and start-ups about the many facets of running a business.
Workshops could be set up at different regional and county locations to supply information on a variety of business matters.
Checklists from cities and counties that includes information on regulatory concerns, health and safety issues and contact areas are needed when owners apply for business permits, Yalow said.
There is a dramatic learning curve when opening a business and hiring employees, he said, and many people could use more help in navigating the regulatory process.
"I felt great," Nunez said. "I think (Brown) is going to fight to help establish something that will help small-business owners."
Nunez also brought up the fact money generated by small businesses stays in the community and California while money taken by store chains usually goes out of state, Yalow said.
Edwards also raised the prospect of building the Sites Reservoir, but the long-in-planning, short-on-action project remains relatively unchanged.
"The governor did say the 'possible' Sites Reservoir was a long way off, so I am planting more trees," Edwards noted on Facebook.