California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, has authored a bill that would increase protections for female janitors who work at night. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

This story updates our Rape on the Night Shift investigation.

A proposed law that seeks to protect janitorial workers in California from persistent sexual violence took one step closer to becoming reality this week.

The state Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment voted 5-2 on Wednesday to advance the bill, which would require workers and supervisors to undergo at least four hours of sexual assault training each year. The bill would create a hotline for workers to report sexual assaults, harassment and human trafficking.

It could also force companies to stop making night shift janitors work alone, which makes them particularly vulnerable to abuse from supervisors. It’s one simple change that workers have said would make a big difference.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, wrote the bill in response to the documentary “Rape on the Night Shift,” a collaboration among Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, KQED, FRONTLINE and Univision. The investigation uncovered sexual abuse of immigrant women who clean offices and businesses.

“It really made me think about these workers in particular,” Gonzalez said at the legislative hearing in Sacramento. “What’s happening to female janitors, alone at night. We just don’t want to see.

“This bill will strengthen workplace protections for janitorial services,” she added.

In addition, contractors would be required by Jan. 1, 2018, to register with the California Department of Industrial Relations, which then would post a searchable database of these contractors online. The database would note which contractors have flouted labor laws.  

Janitor Maria Gonzalez told lawmakers at the hearing Wednesday, through an interpreter, that a supervisor had preyed on her.

“I was cleaning a room, and when he came, he turned off the light,” she said. “And then I told him, ‘Why did you turn off the light?’ When I went to turn the light on, he started kissing me. I felt so vulnerable, I didn’t know what to do.

“This is my story, I beg you to please listen to us because there’s a lot of women out there experiencing this,” she added.

The bill will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May. If it passes that committee, the bill will move to the Assembly floor by June 3. A majority vote is needed to move the bill to the state Senate.

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is an award-winning reporter. Her investigation When Abusers Keep Their Guns, which exposed how perpetrators often kill their intimate partners with guns they possess unlawfully, spurred sweeping provisions in federal law that greatly expanded the power of local and state police and prosecutors to crack down on abusers with illegal firearms. The project won a 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and has been nominated for a 2022 Emmy Award.

Gollan also has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to shoddy tire manufacturing practices that kill motorists. Her series on rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry, Caregivers and Takers, prompted a congressional hearing and a statewide enforcement sweep in California to recover workers’ wages. Another investigation – focused on how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured on the job – led to tightened federal oversight of contractors’ safety violations.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian US and Politico Magazine, as well as on PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera English’s “Fault Lines” program. Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awards. Gollan is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.