New Laws May Change Work Conditions for California Farm Laborers

Yahoo Contributor Network

The California legislature is currently working on two bills that would change working conditions for the Golden State's agricultural employees. As noted by Around the Capitol, these bills are AB 2346 (heat-related illnesses) and AB 1313 (overtime pay).

What does AB 2346 say?

Introduced by Betsy Butler (D-Marina Del Rey), the most recent version of the bill is known as the Farm Worker Safety Act of 2012. It expresses the legislature's intent to "ensure that employers provide farm workers with sufficient water and adequate shade and that employers take necessary and appropriate steps to prevent heat illness and death."

Why do California lawmakers weigh in on the working conditions of agricultural laborers?

As noted by the Associated Press, recent temperatures in the Central Valley reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit and may have led to two heat-related deaths of field workers. Estimates suggest that 14 farm workers have suffered heat-related deaths since 2005. Although the State of California already has rules in place that govern the availability of shade and drinking water, Butler seeks to further regulate the practice to make prosecution of violators easier.

What do critics of the measure say?

The California Farm Bureau Federation considers the bill unnecessary. It points to the already existing laws, and the time and money spent to implement them, as being sufficient to protect farm workers. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) agrees that the current regulations are working and enforceable. The California Farm Labor Contractor Association warns that lawyers may try to drum up business by having farm laborers file suits against employers.

What does AB 1313 say?

The most recent amended version of the bill removes the overtime exemption for agricultural employees. As noted by the Associated Press, this proposed law would integrate California's farm workers into the same class of non-management employees who receive overtime pay for any work done in excess of eight daily or 40 weekly work hours. At this time, agricultural employees receive overtime pay only after working 10 hours per day or 60 hours per week.

What do critics say?

It is noteworthy that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill. Critics believe that farm owners will reduce their work force and rely more on mechanical harvesters to save money.

Will these bills pass the California legislature?

AB 2346 has passed the assembly with 41 votes supporting the measure and 28 votes opposing it. Since then, it passed the senate's labor and industrial relations committee (five to zero), the senate appropriations committee (seven to zero) and also a second reading in the same committee (five to two). AB 1313 passed the assembly with 51 yes votes against 27 no votes. Earlier this week it passed the senate with 22 votes supporting the law and 15 votes opposing it.

Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.

View Comments