FJ Blog

Friday, 30 September 2016

Historic California Overtime Legislation
On September 12, California Governor Jerry Brown signed historic legislation that gives farmworkers the same overtime protections as all other workers in the state. This is a long overdue victory for farmworkers in California, and one that we hope can lead Congress to end the discriminatory treatment of farmworkers under our federal labor laws. The exception of farmworkers from the federal overtime law passed in 1938 stems from historical discrimination against African American workers, and it is time for employers in agriculture to operate under the same rules that apply to employers in other sectors, including those with seasonal jobs. Gaining the political will in Congress may depend on additional states first ending their discriminatory laws. One might think that the California growers would not want to compete against growers in other states who have lower labor costs due to exemptions from labor protections.

To read more, see this blog post.

Familias Unidos por la Justicia Wins Union Vote, Will Represent Farmworkers at Sakuma Bros.
A labor dispute spanning three years at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Washington State has reached a new stage with the berry farm’s workers voting overwhelmingly to form a union with Familias Unidos por la Justicia as their representative.

Farmworker union elections are not protected or governed by the National Labor Relations Board, which is just another example of discriminatory employment laws faced by farmworkers. In practice, the lack of a formal structure for union representation elections makes farmworker union campaigns incredibly difficult. Yet, in spite of this obstacle, these workers were able to mount an enduring and effective campaign to pressure their employer to hold an election. Although by striking they won some important gains, now the union and the company, if it acts in good faith, will negotiate a comprehensive agreement. The Union, which is led by immigrants from indigenous communities in Mexico, ended its boycott against Driscoll’s strawberries, which sells Sakuma’s berries.

FJ President Bruce Goldstein Featured at Food Tank’s Farm Tank Conference
Before heading to speak at the first annual Farm Tank Conference - Sacramento, Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein sat down with Food Tank to answer 10 questions about food and agriculture. See his responses to the biggest challenges and opportunities facing farmworkers and the future of agriculture here. Bruce was a panelist at the conference, which included speakers and attendees from many corners of the food and agriculture systems.
It is critical that the perspectives of farmworkers and their advocates be heard in forums such as the Farm Tank Conference. Far too often, conversations around sustainability in agriculture overlook the important role farmworkers play in our food system.

Washington Post op-ed on Visa Reform for Dairies
The executive director of the National Immigration Forum, Ali Noorani, recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for an update to our various systems for awarding visas. Farmworker Justice is well-known for its support for progressive immigration reform but is concerned about the focus of the op-ed. Specifically, he mentions the need for year-round labor in the dairy industry and how this makes employers ineligible to bring in workers through the H-2A guest worker program, which is only for seasonal jobs.

The dairy industry plays an important role in our agricultural economy and our nation’s health. But the fact remains that it is a year-round industry and most dairy workers work on large farms. Granting temporary visas to fill potential labor shortages is an inappropriate solution. The industry can and should be doing more to lift wages, benefits, and working conditions to attract and retain workers. In addition, any workers brought in from outside the U.S. to fill actual shortages should be given legal immigration, not guestworker, status and put on a path to citizenship.

Fox News Immigration Poll
An August 2016 poll from Fox News shows that 77% of registered voters support granting legal status to those immigrants who are undocumented, while only 19% favor deporting “as many as possible.” This is an encouraging trend; in July of 2015, 30% favored mass deportations.
While the language of the poll question does not delineate between a path to citizenship and other means of granting status, it is clear that the vast majority of the American public is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.

Although it is highly unlikely that Congress will act before the election or during the lame duck period, it is paramount that the next Congress and Administration prioritize a path to citizenship for the undocumented. In the meantime, undocumented farmworkers and temporary foreign workers under the H-2A program, which is expanding, are vulnerable to unfair and illegal employer practices. We must continue to help these workers improve conditions on farms.

Please support Farmworker Justice with your tax-deductible donation.

by Matt Clark
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Monday, 19 September 2016

Farmworkers in California achieved a major victory on September 12, 2016, when Governor Brown signed into law overtime protections for farmworkers. We congratulate the United Farm Workers, their allies and the California leaders who worked hard to achieve this historic success. Importantly, we also thank all of the farmworkers who took time out of their busy schedules to fight for this victory.

The passage of the overtime law, AB 1066, ensures farmworkers will have an equal right to overtime pay and continues the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. Rooted in discrimination against African American workers, the Fair Labor Standards Act excludes farmworkers from overtime and other protections. During the past forty years, California has gradually added farmworkers to employment-law protections from which they have been excluded by Congress and other state legislatures.

Under the new law, California farmworkers will be entitled to time-and-a-half pay for working more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours in a week in agriculture. The bill phases in overtime pay over a period of 4 years beginning in 2019; for employers with 25 or fewer employees, the phase-in will be delayed by three additional years. Double time pay will be required for 12 hours of work a day beginning in 2022. Under federal law, farmworkers and their employers are excluded from overtime pay; and under prior California law, overtime need only be paid if farmworkers work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours in a week.

For decades it has been recognized that businesses which require more than forty hours of work in a week should pay a premium wage. Overtime pay offers extra compensation to workers but also acts as a deterrent against employers’ imposition of excessively long work days and weeks. Consistent, excessive hours can be physically damaging, especially to workers who make their careers in strenuous jobs. Farm work has long been recognized as physically difficult, strenuous work. Excessive hours interfere with time needed to raise children, care for elderly parents, take classes, enjoy leisure time and get needed rest. Farmworkers’ low pay means that they usually cannot afford to pay for extended daycare hours for their children or other services that are needed to address the effects of working excessive hours.

Overtime pay has been controversial and opposed by many businesses as too costly and as being globally anti-competitive for over one hundred years. Yet, most people in working class jobs have been covered by time-and-a-half pay since passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Complaints by agricultural employers are no different from complaints by employers in other occupations who face increases in the minimum wage or overtime requirements. The exception for agriculture was never fair and we commend California for moving away from the discriminatory history experienced by farmworkers to grant overtime pay to agricultural workers.

The U.S. Congress needs to learn a lesson from California and end numerous exclusions of farmworkers from labor protections that apply to other workers. California is the most successful agricultural production state; about one-third of the nation’s farmworkers are employed there. Not only do farmworkers outside California deserve an end to discrimination in labor laws, but agricultural businesses in California should not have to compete with growers that save money on labor costs because the federal law and their state laws discriminate against farmworkers in employment laws. As UFW President Rodriguez said, AB 1066 "would give license to farmworkers in other states fighting for the same thing.” We all want to feel good about the food we purchase and consume, and the continuing discrimination in employment laws against farmworkers – the people who produce our food – perpetuates a stain on our food system that should be eradicated.

by Adrienne DerVartanian
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Tuesday, 06 September 2016

California legislature passes OT bill for farmworkers, now Governor Brown must sign bill to help end discrimination against farmworkers
On August 27, farmworkers achieved a significant victory when the California legislature passed a bill that over several years would phase in time-and-a-half pay for working more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours in a week in agriculture. Under federal law, farmworkers and their employers are excluded from overtime pay; and under current California law, overtime need only be paid if farmworkers work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours in a week. We congratulate the coalition that won this legislative battle after a defeat just weeks earlier. The United Farm Workers brought many farmworkers to the state capitol, Sacramento, to demonstrate their support for equal treatment and overtime pay.

The bill now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature to become law. Governor Brown should sign the bill to provide farmworkers with this important benefit and to continue the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. Overtime pay for farmworkers: it’s time. To read more, see our blog post here.

California grower ordered to pay $2.4 million for violations of H-2A program rules
Fernandez Farms, Inc., a California-based strawberry farm, and its president Gonzalo Fernandez, were fined $2.4 million by an Administrative Law Judge for violations of the H-2A program rules. The order included roughly $1.1 million in payment to the workers for unlawful kickbacks, failure to provide free housing, multiple wage violations, threatening and coercing H-2A workers, and discriminating against US workers, among other violations; and a civil money penalty of almost $1.3 million for the H-2A violations. In addition, Fernandez Farms and its president were barred from participation in the H-2A program for the maximum period of three years. We applaud DOL for their investigation despite continued resistance from Fernandez and his family members. We also commend the work of CRLA and CDM for their support to the impacted workers and the DOL.

While the ALJ decision is a victory for the impacted workers, the case is deeply troubling for the abuses it reveals. As we have shared in prior updates, H-2A workers are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because they can only remain and work in the U.S. for the one employer who brings them here. Fernandez, for example, felt that he could intimidate his H-2A workers into silence during the Department of Labor investigation. This case illustrates the kinds of abuses we can expect to see more of as the H-2A program use continues to grow rapidly. As DOL trial attorney Abigail Daquiz notes, “We’re finding that in lots of different ways, employees are having to pay that [transportation and recruitment costs] back, being forced to kick it back.” The H-2A program protections and DOL’s oversight are important tools to try to prevent worker abuse, but more is needed. Agribusiness complaints about the H-2A program “bureaucracy” and overly burdensome rules demonstrates their interest in reducing even these minimum protections.

And while we commend the maximum debarment for Fernandez Farm and its president, we are troubled that Fernandez’s sister, Celia, a former supervisor at Fernandez Farms who was accused of involvement in the case, has been approved to receive H-2A workers this year. According to the LA Times article, her farm is a newly incorporated company at the same address as the former Fernandez Farms, which filed for bankruptcy. DOL must do more to debar bad actors and their successors to send a message that growers must comply with the law in order to have access to the H-2A program.

Donald Trump much anticipated speech on immigration more of the same anti-immigrant rhetoric
In a highly promoted speech on immigration following weeks of hints that he may soften his position on immigration, Trump continued to invoke anti-immigrant rhetoric and repeated his call for a border wall paid for by Mexico. Trump’s proposals for immigration would only worsen our broken immigration system, including by ending sanctuary cities, ending President Obama’s DACA and proposed DAPA programs, yet failing to provide a realistic and humane solution for the millions of hard-working aspiring Americans. We are deeply troubled by Trump’s continued broad brush characterization of undocumented individuals as criminals and his lack of respect for our nation’s diversity. We will continue to monitor and report on both presidential candidates’ positions on immigration.

by Megan Horn
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