- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Workers can recover unpaid wages by placing liens on property owned by their employers, including businesses and homes where they performed work, under a bill that passed the Assembly on Wednesday.

AB2416 heads to the Senate on a 43-26, party-line vote after pitting many of California’s leading labor groups against business groups that criticized the proposal as unjust.

Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, said his bill addresses a broken system for low-wage workers such as janitors, restaurant workers and garment industry employees who are denied overtime, paid breaks and minimum wage protections.

A study last year by the UCLA Labor Center and National Employment Law Project found 83 percent of workers with successful wage claims in California between 2008 and 2011 never recovered their paychecks. That was mostly driven by employers who dissolved their businesses.

“Some of the lowest-paid workers in the state of California do not have adequate access to wages they earned but have not been paid,” Stone said.

The bill attracted strong opposition from business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, which warned that employees would be able to place liens without bringing forward evidence of actual wage theft.

Several Republican lawmakers said the bill would drag innocent third parties into labor disputes by allowing liens on real property where work is performed. For example, the bill would allow liens to be put on a homeowner if a maid working for a cleaning service was underpaid.

“That lack of connection between wrong and remedy is antithetical to American law,” said Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine.

Stone said his bill is focused primarily on commercial property and businesses, such as office buildings contracting for security services. He also said the idea of liens against homeowners’ properties for unpaid labor is not new because provisions in the California Constitution allow construction employees to seek liens on property they helped develop.

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