More than a dozen drivers honked their horns as they circled around Cesar Chavez Park in downtown San Jose with “sign AB 3216” inscribed on their car windows.

Their message was directed to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who they want to sign Assembly Bill 3216, which is designed to provide significant labor protections for hotel, janitorial, airport, event center and building maintenance workers.

“Thousands of working families are unemployed because of COVID and are afraid that we may be left behind — that when employers reopen that they may not take us back,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director for Silicon Valley Rising.

“I’m scared that when it’s finally safe to re-open, my employer could use the pandemic as an opportunity to discriminate against longtime workers.”

Dolores Domingues, hotel worker

The legislation, also known as the Right to Recall, was authored by Assemblymember Ash Kalra and passed by lawmakers earlier this month. Among other provisions, the bill would allow employees who have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic, a government shutdown or other public health emergency preferential treatment to be hired back for other jobs they’re qualified for.

If passed, supporters say the bill would ensure service workers in industries hardest hit by COVID-19 closures are offered the first right to be rehired once their employers resume operations. Since March, COVID-19 related job losses in hospitality, airport, food service and event services has soared, proponents said, with 59% of workers in the hospitality industry filing for unemployment.

The bill needs a signature from the governor to go into effect. He has until Sept. 30 to decide whether to approve or veto the bill.

Several cities in California have already passed local right of recall legislation, including Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Diego and Oakland.

Taking action

While approximately 25 cars circled around Cesar Chavez Park at noon Sept. 22, across the street from a series of hotels, about 15 protesters met inside the park to hold a news conference organized by Unite Here Local 19.

Jeff Barrera, Silicon Valley Rising communications director, said most of the protesters drove or rode around the park as a creative way to practice social distancing.

“I’m scared that when it’s finally safe to re-open, my employer could use the pandemic as an opportunity to discriminate against longtime workers,” said Dolores Domingues, a banquet server at DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. “In the hospitality industry, so many service workers are immigrant women like me who have also fought to improve conditions across our industry. The governor needs to sign AB 3216 to ensure that my family can continue to build a stable future.”

After the news conference, the AB 3216 supporters set out to Sacramento. They joined a coalition of organizations around California in “caravaning” to the state Capitol to send their message to the governor.

In addition to San Jose, groups of workers from Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Pasadena and Santa Ana participated in similar caravans. The workers wrote a letter to Newsom, outlining what signing the bill would mean to them and their families.

AB 3216 is supported by unions but opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce and is featured on its annual “job killers” list.

An ‘ornerous’ bill

The California Chamber of Commerce describes the bill with the following text: “Imposes an onerous and stringent process for specific employers to return employees to the workforce, which will delay rehiring and subject employers to litigation for any alleged mistakes.”

Louise Auerhahn, director for economic and workforce policy at Working Partnerships USA, said when the California Chamber of Commerce originally complained about the bill months ago, amendments were made to address the business-advocacy group’s concerns. However, she said that wasn’t enough.

“At this point it really seems like they’re just opposed to workers having any rights,” Auerhahn said.

Contact Luke Johnson at and follow @Scoop_Johnson on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Derecka Mehrens, the executive director of Working Partnerships USA, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.