Volunteer Law Debated

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, March 31, 2008
It’s a little-known fact that under the state labor code, volunteers on most state projects must be paid the prevailing wage. Think trail clean-up, watershed restoration and the like. But for the past four years, there’s been another law in place that allows volunteers to....well...volunteer. That law expires at the end of the year. Republican Senator Roy Ashburn is pushing a bill to permanently allow volunteers to work without pay on public projects. He says otherwise agencies and nonprofits would have to pay all the people who are now willing to work for free: “If that wage were paid, all this work would stop, the environmental restorations would stop, the channel clearing would stop. The trail construction would end, clean-up of the San Francisco Bay after an oil spill, forget it.” But some labor groups are vigorously opposed. Willie Pelote is with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He says there could be very negative effects from making the law permanent: “You will see unemployment rising because local entities as well as the state of CA will take advantage of volunteers to do work that they are not qualified or trained to do, and we could see the liability being put on the backs of those local entities to pay when people are injured.” He says the impact of the law allowing unpaid volunteers should be studied before there’s any discussion of expanding it. Senator Ashburn points out there have been no complaints over the past four years about the way the law was working. His bill did not make it out of a committee last week. It will be reconsidered sometime over the next couple of weeks. Another lawmaker has also written a bill to expand the current law for four more years. Incidentally, Governor Schwarzenegger recently created a new cabinet-level position dedicated to fostering service and volunteering. (Ashburn bill is SB 1345)