A new bill in California’s state legislature is taking aim at the practice of forced arbitration clauses in contracts. This poses the chance of doing much to create a culture of respect for the thousands of women who would otherwise have to face the choice of saying something about the clause and risking the job offer, or going along with signing away their rights to legal protections. If the bill is signed into law, it could affect many of the work crews for janitorial services in Orange County.
Forced arbitration, while initially designed to protect a company from costly litigation, can, in the worst situations be used as a bargaining chip. These clauses that make their way into contracts can have the unintended consequence of keeping employees from following through when an incident occurs.
The unfortunate reality of janitorial work is that it can pose certain hazards to those who are vulnerable, not least of all, women who have recently immigrated to the U.S. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that, as a janitor, work tends to happen outside of a normal 9-to-5 schedule. As a result, women can become exposed to high-risk situations. Hotel cleaning staff need to be careful about potentially dangerous strangers on the premises, or unwanted advances by guests. Even office cleaning poses a threat, as many campuses are isolated, and cleaning happens after hours, when the simple task of carrying the garbage to the dumpster can be a fearful one.
As a janitorial service in Orange County, ICS works to protect all our workers, including women. One of the many ways we create a safer, more humane work environment is through offering day cleaning where possible. When work is done during regular work hours, it minimizes high-risk work situations, in addition to maximizing the quality of the work environment.
Possibly more disturbing is the dangerous advances that come from within the organization. That’s because forced arbitration, at its worst, can be leveraged to deny women their rights, and their due protection under the law, and encourage predatory advances as a result. “Women, especially immigrant women, don’t report the abuse out of fear. Fear because they need the job, because of their migrant status,” explained activist and janitor Maria Trujillo in an interview about the unique pressures immigrant women face in the janitorial industry. “They are afraid of losing the job they need to feed their children.”
The introduction of bill AB 3080 is therefore likely to be a welcome addition to creating a safer work environment, where sexual harassment is less possible. Gonzales Fletcher, the bill’s author, has said that, “All contracts must be voluntary, not the result of coercion,” adding that, “Denying a worker their livelihood if they do not sign a waiver of their rights is anything but voluntary.” The passage of this bill would not in and of itself make women safer. What the law would change is giving a welcome contribution to the culture of janitorial services in Orange County, creating an environment where the work women do is valued, and where the unique needs of women are addressed.