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Fresno to Go After Wage Thieves. Will It Target Bitwise?

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Fresno wants to target wage thieves. Will it go after Bitwise? (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)
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A state law that took effect this year allows cities to enforce aspects of labor law. And, the Fresno City Council is poised to start.

The city council is scheduled to vote Thursday “to empower the City Attorney’s office to investigate and prosecute employer wage theft.”

“If our working-class families are getting taken advantage of, that affects not just them, but all of us who call Fresno home,” said Fresno City Councilmember Tyler Maxwell, who is sponsoring the legislation. “Bad actors will be held to account and we will help deliver the relief so many Fresno families deserve.”

Wage theft can include anything from an employer not paying, to not enforcing breaks, to misclassifying employees.

Maxwell, announcing the legislation at City Hall on Tuesday, said the city would alleviate the caseload for the Fresno-area state labor commissioner. However, the city would also set up a website to file complaints.

Fresno City Councilman Tyler Maxwell introduces a city wage theft plan at a Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024 news conference at Fresno City Hall. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Will City Go After Bitwise?

One of the more spectacular cases of alleged wage fraud is Bitwise Industries. The tech and real estate company collapsed into bankruptcy last year, amid accusations it did not pay its employees fully.

Would the city go after Bitwise if it grants itself the power to pursue wage theft cases? City Attorney Andrew Janz said other agencies are already investigating.

“That remains to be seen. That is one potential employer that we may be looking at, but again, that raises similar concerns. We have the U.S. Attorney’s office that is already investigating and prosecuting those individuals for wage theft and other similar crimes. And so I’d be concerned about some double jeopardy issues there. We know that there are ongoing civil lawsuits, and I know that many people have already filed claims with the labor commissioner,” Janz said.

Janz said the city would pursue wage thieves on a “case-by-case basis.” Generally, Janz said, it would be cases his office is confident can be proven by law.

Maxwell said the program would be cost-neutral, although he didn’t explain how. Both Maxwell and Janz said the city attorney’s office can add such cases to its load.

Maxwell’s office clarified that a portion of fines associated with a successfully prosecuted case go to the attorney.

Janz said the intent is not to go after “mom and pop” shops that make small, simple accounting errors.

A City First?

If the city adopts the powers granted to it under AB 594, it would be the first California city to do so. Neither Maxwell nor Janz gave a specific number of how many local labor violation cases there are, but estimated it to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Final votes taken for the bill last September in Sacramento saw the Central Valley delegation mostly split along party lines.

Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno voted yes in the Assembly. Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Devon Mathis, R-Porterville voted no. Esmeralda Soria, D-Fresno, did not vote.

In the state Senate, Melissa Hurtado, D-Bakersfield, voted yes. Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson voted no. Anna Caballero, D-Merced, and Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield did not vote.


Also in Politics 101 …

  • How much will the city pay for Cesar Chavez street signs?
  • New head for FCTA
  • No cell tower in Squaw Valley

How Much Will the City Pay for Cesar Chavez Street Signs?

Last year, the Fresno City Council voted to rename a south city road Cesar Chavez Boulevard, after the late labor rights leader.

Now, taxpayers know how much it will cost to replace 222 street signs along Kings Canyon Road, California Avenue, and Ventura Street: $142,287. The council is set to award the contract to Kroeker, Inc. at Thursday’s meeting.

The Fresno company will have 30 days to finish the work, per the contract.

Fresno will pay more than $142,000 for new Cesar Chavez Blvd. signs. (GV Wire/Paul Marshall)

Transportation Veteran Takes Over FCTA

Terry Ogle

The agency in charge of implementing Measure C — the Fresno County half-cent sales tax for transportation projects — hired a new executive director. Terry Ogle starts with the Fresno County Transportation Authority on Feb. 26.

Ogle arrives with 35 years of transportation experience. This includes Caltrans, and private firms working with High-Speed Rail. One of Ogle’s Caltrans duties was working with Measure C funds for freeway construction projects.

One of his immediate concerns would be the renewal of Measure C, which expires in 2027. Voters rejected an attempt in 2022.

He replaces Mike Leonardo, who is retiring after seven years heading FCTA.

Supervisors Reject Yokuts Valley Cell Phone Tower

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors did not approve a Verizon cell phone tower planned for the Yokuts Valley (formerly Squaw Valley) area. Several neighbors spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that the tower might reduce home values and safety in the immediate vicinity.

The supervisors voted 4-1 on Jan. 23 to uphold a planning commission decision to deny the tower. Nathan Magsig, who represents the district of the proposed tower, voted no.

Magsig said he was disappointed that Verizon did not engage the community more, especially reaching out to public safety and education entities. But, he believed the towers would improve cell service in the area.

Verizon could take the issue to federal court if it chooses.

 

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email