California State Legislative Bill Watch

“The following bills are moving through the state legislature and need to be monitored and defeated for the benefit of agriculture and farm workers,” noted Barry Bedwell, President of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League in Fresno.

“Our primary focus throughout the month of August is talking to California Congressional Representatives about immigration reform,” said Bedwell. “That is our main push right now.”

Bedwell noted that the League is also focused particularly on two bills in Sacramento.

“The biggest one locally is SB 25, which Dan Gerawan, of Gerawan Farming is very much involved with,” said Bedwell. “It is a change in the Agriculture Labor Relations Act that would allow for perpetual mandatory mediation. This takes away the rights of the farm worker to the point that if there were an election for unionization, the farmworker would have no say in ratifying the terms of an agreement—no input whatsoever. As a result, the union would not have to bargain in good faith. The end result would be that three percent of each farm worker’s paycheck would go to the union.”

Bedwell noted SB 435 is another important bill and is authored by State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). This bill has to do with piece-rate work, which would require mandatory payments for breaks as well as any preventive recovery period having to do with heat illness prevention. “The current law states that ag employers must provide workers two breaks, and it is up to the workers to take them. The employer must also provide any number of recovery periods for any worker who is trying to prevent overheating.”

“Because employers cannot pay less than minimum wages, we have always contended that those breaks are paid for already,” said Bedwell. “What the bill calls for is that all the breaks, whether the worker takes them or not, would be paid separately, apart from the piece-work income. And in some cases, it would mean that workers would be paid double.”

The same bill was tried twice before in 2004 and 2005, and both times were vetoed by former Governor Schwarzenegger under the theory that the workers were already getting paid well above minimum wage. Furthermore, it was rejected with the understanding that it was not necessary for heat illness prevention because there was a big increase in compliance in agriculture.

“The California Labor Relations Board is trying to set up a law where compliance is next to impossible,” said Bedwell. “If you have hundreds of employees, each one could be on different breaks and for a different amount of breaks. If a grower is required to account for each worker separately, and pays them separately, then you are setting up a system in which farmers would be out of compliance and therefore subject to fines.”

“At the same time, there will be no improvement regarding heat illness prevention because we are already making great strides on this. This could have major costs for agriculture,” Bedwell said.

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