Governor Schwarzenegger proposes change to lunch break laws

Breakfast was at 7:00 am. It's now 1:00 pm, and your stomach is growling. You have been on your feet since you started work five hours ago. But bad news. Lunch is still at least an hour away. Welcome to a new employer-friendly labor law, Schwarzenegger-style.

Employees may be waiting a little longer for their lunch breaks. California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a new emergency labor regulation regarding meal periods for hourly employees.

The regulation signals the Governor's commitment to making California more employer-friendly. But worker's rights advocates see the Governor's employer-friendly plan as employee-unfriendly.

Under the current law, hourly employees get a 30 minute meal break when they work at least five hours. And that break must take place before the fifth hour.

Under Arnold's plan, employees would still get a thirty-minute meal break. But employers wouldn't be required to make sure workers get their break. In fact, not scheduling meal breaks would no longer violate labor laws. And the meal break could be waived by consent of both the worker and employer.

It may be employees who might end up involuntarily slimming down if their meal break rights are stripped away.

And here's another thing. The break could take place any time during the employee's shift. In other words, a worker's meal break could be the last half hour of his work day. Plus, employees would specifically have to request a break. Worker rights advocates rightly worry that employees may be reluctant to voice their needs thanks to a fear of repercussions.

Arnold's administration maintains these changes would provide workers with flexibility. Not to mention a reduction in labor lawsuits. But detractors argue such policies only increase employee vulnerability to employment pressures.

The Governor's plan began as emergency regulation. Within weeks, Arnold's administration replaced the proposal with plans for permanent legislation. This subjects the change to public hearings and a longer enactment process.

This delay will expose the issue to the public and allow more organizations and individuals to weigh-in. But, it's employees who might end up involuntarily slimming down if their meal break rights are stripped away.