Shoplifters are a constant nuisance at Jas Hundal’s liquor store in South Natomas.
“After COVID everything changed,” Hundal said.
He said shoplifters ask to look at expensive bottle of Hennessy Cognac at $70 or more and then snatch it and attempt to run out of the store on West El Camino Avenue. He attributes the increase in thefts to government aid ending and people wanting to maintain their lifestyle.
Hundal said when he and his employees successfully block the shoplifters a barage of obscenities are thrown out. For him, it is most hurtful when shoplifters tell the India-born Hundal, “go back to your country.”
On Wednesday afternoon Hundal, 52, was one of about a thousand small merchants and gas station owners protesting outside the state Capitol.
They stood in 100-degree heat for three hours shouting no to the legislation that would prohibit employers from maintaining policies that require rank-and-file, non-security personnel to confront suspected active shoplifters.
“If this bill passes, we will see shoplifters every day,” said Hundal, who says the incidents now occur about once a week.
Other merchants and gas station owners at the rally said they already encounter daily shoplifting incidents and the number will only increase under the legislation if employees can’t confront those shoplifting.
What’s behind the workplace violence bill?
The prohibition against confronting shoplifters is part of broader legislation aimed at curbing workplace violence and sponsored by state Sen. Dave Cortese, D-Santa Clara County.
The bill passed the state Senate on May 31 and has been on a fast track in the Assembly for passage. It has already passed two key committees and a floor vote could occur in early September.
Cortese said he is working with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and expects the bill could be signed by the governor in the fall and go into effect in January.
Cortese said his impetus for the legislation came after a disgruntled Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority employee opened fire on coworkers in a rail yard building in downtown San Jose. Nine people died in the attack in May 2021.
His bill requires employers to have a plan on file for how to deal with an active shooter, something he said the transit authoritydid not have in place.
On the shoplifting issue, Cortese said non-security guard workers should not be forced to confront shoplifters because it is not part of their job.
“Why should employees be put in harm’s way?” he asked.
The bill also requires employers to assess whether they should hire security guards, who could confront shoplifters. But the small merchants and gas station owners said they can’t afford security guards.
Would the bill lead to increased theft?
Store and gas station owners from Sacramento, Fresno and as far south as San Diego attended the rally. Leaders spoke in English and in Punjabi, a language common in India and the home country of many of the owners.
One of those attending was Sarab Shoor who owns Franklin Gas & Mart on Franklin Boulevard in south Sacramento.
Shoor said he and his employees are able to usually stop the daily shoplifter who grabs a candy bar or a soda and tries to run out.
“We stand our ground, they get scared and 99% of the time they drop their merchandise and just walk away,” he said.
Shoor said employees will just have to let shoplifters continue in their criminal act if Cortese’s legislation becomes law.
Cortese, at a meeting with several merchants and leaders of trade organizations before the rally, said the bill does not prevent an employee from confronting a shopkeeper on an ad hoc basis. The key, he said, is that the employee is not being mandated by the employer to confront the shoplifter but is doing so voluntarily.
However, Karen Fuller Tynan, a Sacramento lawyer who helps companies implement workplace safety plans, said her reading of Cortese’s bill is that an employee could not confront a shoplifter.
She said under the bill companies must have a policy prohibiting non-security employees from being required to confront shoplifters.
“It would be incredibly non-compliant for an employer to say we don’t want you to confront shoplifters, but in the spur of the moment it’s OK,” she said. “It would be an impossible policy.”
Bobbie Singh-Allen, the CEO of the American Petroleum and Convenience Store Association, who met with Cortese on Wednesday, said she believed that the bill could be amended to help the store owners.
“The good news is that we are working with the senator, we are having open dialogue and we are hopeful,” she said.
But she added that the bill was “unworkable for small businesses “ in its present form because it will accelerate shoplifting.
Singh-Allen said the shoplifting problem in California is compounded by Proposition 47, a voter-approved initiative in 2014 that made the theft of merchandise valued at $950 or less a misdemeanor.
She said the law has led to a massive increase in shoplifting because there is little or no penalty for the crime.