California Labor Commissioner’s Office hosts Youth Labor Rights Workshops at Moreno Valley High School

UCLA Labor Center staff and UCLA Labor Studies alumni traveled to Moreno Valley to support the LCO in bringing young worker education to high school students

By Jazmin Rivera | February 12, 2024

On January 31, at the start of Moreno Valley High School’s third period, approximately 60 students entered their lecture hall to find California Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower standing alongside their work experience coordinator and teacher, Ms. Micah Justice. Staff from the California Labor Commissioner’s office (LCO) and the UCLA Labor Center were there to host an educational workshop providing resources and information on California labor laws to the working students at the high school. Joined by Deputy Labor Commissioner Dora Luna and Bilingual Community Engagement Liaison Evelyn Ortega, the workshop leaders walked students through a presentation about their labor rights as young workers, as well as ways they can advocate for themselves in their workplaces. This initiative reflects a part of the labor commissioner’s mission to “promote economic justice through robust enforcement of labor laws.”

The workshop began with a short welcome by Guadalupe Gonzelez, a UCLA Labor Studies graduate (2023) and Moreno Valley High School alumna (2019), who handed students welcome packets as they shuffled to their seats. Next, Garcia-Brower spoke about the role of the California labor commissioner.

“Every working person should know my office,” said Garcia-Brower, who explained that the LCO handles wage and retaliation complaints, investigates noncompliant employers, and educates the public about workplace protections. Her office’s Youth Advocacy Program is part of their “Reaching Every Californian” campaign, which aims to build new pathways between the LCO and communities who previously did not have access to the office’s resources.

Eager students — minors and newly-turned adults alike — sat and listened to the rest of the workshop presented by Rick Mejia, senior deputy labor commissioner, whose lecture equipped students with knowledge of minimum wage, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and wage theft.

The presentation left the room of students buzzing with questions.

“How many breaks do I receive when working a six-hour shift?” asked one student. “What happens if I don’t get my last paycheck when I quit my job?” asked another.

Each question was met with a response from either Garcia-Brower or Mejia, who talked through the various ways the LCO can intervene to support young workers if their rights are violated. Throughout the presentation, work experience teacher Ms. Justice interjected with additional details on how this information impacts minors, who hold special work permits in order to work while enrolled in school.

As the presentation concluded, Mejia asked the room why they were all working in the first place. It didn’t take long for a student to shoot their hand up.

“To survive and make a living.”

Although the response shocked some adults in the room, many students nodded and murmured in agreement. According to a new report by the UCLA Labor Center, 12% of young workers are heads of households, and 48% of high school young workers work 20 hours or more a week. The questions and experiences shared by Moreno Valley’s working students illuminated the importance of continuing to bring know-your-labor-rights education into California’s classrooms.

“I had a great experience being able to give back to my community,” said Gonzalez. “I look forward to seeing how we can further engage with the youth of Moreno Valley and expand these labor rights workshops to other school districts as well.”

LCO staff spent the following day at Canyon Springs High School with work experience coordinator Mr. James Oonten, where they kicked off a similar workshop.

Jazmin Rivera is the Community Education Specialist at the UCLA Labor Center.

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