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"CAUSE" Calls for "Farm Worker Bill of Rights"

The Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, or CAUSE, make headlines recently in Santa Barbara County with it's call for a "farm worker bill of rights."  CAUSE, a self-described social justice advocacy organization, grew out of "living wage" movements in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in the early 2000s.

CAUSE's call for action by Santa Barbara County demands the county undertake a number of new responsibilities, like creating a special coordinator in the District Attorney's office for sexual assaults of farmworker, a county-run inspection program for field sanitation facilities, and grants from the county to farm worker service organizations to provide training to farm workers.  

Some of CAUSE's demands are already covered by California and Federal law:

"Curbing Extreme Overwork:" 

  •  Protect pregnant women from pesticide exposure my mandating job status protected unpaid pregnancy leave:  All U.S. and California workers enjoy the protection of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act.  FMLA and CFRA mandate 12 weeks of job-protected leave for all workers after the birth or adoption of a child.  Additionally,  California State Disability Insurance (SDI) provides partial wage-replacement insurance for workers who suffer a loss of wages due to a medically-disabling condition resulting from pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Require real rest breaks by defining breaks as beginning when a work reaches a break area…: California's Wage Order 14 stipulating working conditions for agricultural workers requires that that farm workers receive "ten minutes of net rest time per four hour (work) period (or major fraction thereof)"..., and the Heat Illness Prevention standard (HIP) requires net-10 minute rest periods every two hours whenever the temperature exceeds 95 degrees, as well as provision of water for all workers at all times and shade for all workers on a break a meal or rest break.

"Cracking down on Wage Theft:"

  •  Several recent laws passed by the California Legislature are aimed by protecting workers from wage theft, including full disclosure to workers of their wages and deductions required on every paycheck stub, empowering the Labor Commissioner to enforce local wage laws, empowering the Labor Commissioner to place liens on the property of employers found to have not properly paid wages.  Penalties under the Labor Code for failure to promptly pay wages are substantial, including as much as 30 days of a workers’ pay over and above any unpaid wages, as well as other penalties ranging from $1000 to $5000, criminal prosecution, and civil liability under California’s Private Attorneys’ General Act (PAGA).

"Protecting Health & Safety:"

  • Provide grant funding for worker safety training:  California employers are required by state law to provide training for workers to perform their jobs safely, to provide training on heat illness under the HIP standard, and other specific task training like safe use of forklifts and tractors.  The U.S. Department of Labor and numerous other organizations also provide grant funding for local private and charitable organizations to provide additional training, and many agricultural and other community-based organizations also provide training and health screening services for farmworkers, like cholesteral and blood pressure screening.
  •  Inspect farms for clean bathrooms: Cal/OSHA already vigorously enforces the Field Sanitation Standard, which calls for toilet facilities, wash water, soap and paper towels.
  • Aid victims of sexual assault: California provides extensive protection to prevent sexual assault and to aid victims; all employers are required to provide sexual harassment training to supervisors every two years; farm labor contractors are required to training their supverisory personnel annually, and to train workers on their rights and protections from sexual harassment at least annually upon hire.

Much of what CAUSE is demanding from Santa Barbara County is already being done by the state or by agricultural employers in compliance with state and federal law.  Unfortunately, organizations like CAUSE periodically seek headlines to satisfy their liberal donor base, even if their demands have already been largely met.