Senator Padilla Introduces Sanitation Customer Bill of Rights, Closing Predatory Loophole in Public Contracts
SACRAMENTO – Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) today introduced Senate Bill 751, the Sanitation Customer Bill of Rights, prohibiting municipalities from entering into exclusive service agreements that permit waste haulers to site a self-imposed labor impasse as an “Act of God”, preventing them from fulfilling a contract.
Next month, Senator Padilla will amend the bill to empower CalRecycle, California’s sanitation regulatory agency, to assess stiff penalties or timely refunds on sanitation contractors who fail to fulfill service obligations and direct proceeds to local residents affected by lost service. The bill will also be amended to include the following rights for sanitation services customers: the right to a timely refund when trash service is not provided, the right to not be charged when service is disrupted, and the right to be notified of potential labor disputes affecting trash service.
In 2022, Senator Padilla had a front row seat to failure of business resulting in a public health emergency. Republic Services failed to reach a labor agreement that triggered a strike. In the franchise agreement with the City of Chula Vista, Republic Services had placed a provision that shielded the company from liability in the face of a strike or work stoppage. As workers called for better wages and the strike continued, Republic Services halted trash pick-up leaving residents to deal with the consequences. The clause shielded the company from liability for the trash piling up throughout the city. The vendor stalled for time while trash piled up, causing a public health crisis.
This provision, known as force majeure, is typically intended to protect parties in the face of an “uncontrollable circumstance – an act of God.” These provisions usually define uncontrollable circumstances as a natural disaster or an insurrection, and are meant to cover action outside of the control of both parties. The franchise agreement with the City included labor disputes, entirely within a company’s ability to negotiate, as an uncontrollable circumstance.
Shielded by this loophole, the vendor had no incentive to come to an agreement with workers, all while trash piled up around the city. In the end, workers were forced to accept a contract they had already refused, in order to get back to work and be able to serve their community. San Diego and Chula Vista residents and workers were left deeply impacted in the wake of this public health threat. However, these exclusive monopoly agreements are a statewide issue, not just a regional one.
“What happened in Chula Vista in a perfect example of companies leveraging loopholes in their exclusive agreements with cities to take advantage of residents and workers alike,” said Senator Padilla. “Sanitation vendors have turned an Act of God provision into a hammer against residents and workers. We shouldn’t allow vendors to use the public as pawns in their labor fights.”
The Sanitation Customer Bill of Rights, SB 751, will prohibit a city, county, or a city and county, from entering into an exclusive franchise agreement for services on or after January 1, 2024, or an agreement amended on or before that date, that contains a force majeure provision that can be triggered by a labor impasses. Stopping municipalities from entering into these predatory agreements helps California stop an emergent public health crisis before it begins and protect workers’ legal right to strike and collectively bargain, while maintaining protections for circumstances that are outside of the control of both parties. California residents should not have to suffer for workers exercising their right to strike and companies should not be shielded from liability when workers are demanding better wages and safer working conditions.
“SB 751 by Senator Padilla would prohibit companies and government agencies from entering into franchise agreements that disadvantage workers exercising their right to free speech,” said Jaime Vasquez, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 542. “This bill will not only protect the workers’ right to demand their worth, but also allow municipalities to demand the continuation of services in a timely manner.”
Steve Padilla represents the 18th Senate District, which includes the communities of Chula Vista, the Coachella Valley, Imperial Beach, the Imperial Valley, National City, and San Diego. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2022, Senator Padilla was the first person of color ever elected to city office in Chula Vista, the first Latino Mayor, and the first openly LGBT person to serve or be elected to city office. Website of Senator Steve Padilla: https://sd18.senate.ca.gov/