CIRS Blog about Rural California

Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Agricultural Labor

By Paulina Rojas

Coachella Unincorporated Editor’s Note: Stories about female farmworkers often examine issues experienced by these women in their work environments, in the fields. There has been extensive reporting on the abuse and harsh working conditions these women face daily. But we rarely get to see what life is like for these hardworking women at home, off the fields. This story uplifts the voices of women who find themselves stuck in cycles of poverty, unable to find any moment for rest, and it looks at how traditional gender roles in farmworker communities only perpetuate that cycle.

MECCA, Calif. — Alicia Benito’s shift picking limes in the fields in and around Mecca, a rural community about three hours east of Los Angeles, starts at 8 a.m. But like a lot of female farmworkers, her day gets going long before first light. 

“First I have to make lunch for the children, my husband and myself,” said Benito, a wife and mother of three, ages 9, 7 and 1. The family shares a rented one story house in a neighborhood surrounded by farm fields. “At 6:30 a.m. I wake up the kids and get them ready. At 7 a.m. I drop off the oldest ones at the school bus stop and then I take my youngest one to daycare.” 

Benito is short and soft spoken, her hands are small but strong. She appears shy and serious at first but just a few minutes into our conversation she smiles and cracks a joke. Her laughter immediately brightens the mood of an unusually cold and dark winter evening. 

After her whirlwind morning routine, Benito, 27, heads to the fields where she spends 8 or more hours a day crouched under trees and exposed to the harsh desert sun. She does this six days a week, often working 50-60 hour work weeks.

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 807 0
0

Forty years after the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) in California, the economic status of California’s farm laborers has deteriorated, despite the remarkably positive performance of the industry as a whole.

 

A 2015 study by Don Villarejo compared the hourly wage rate for field workers in California over a 54-year period (1960-2014) (A New Paradigm is Needed for Labor Relations in Agriculture: California Agriculture and Farm Labor, 1975-2014. California Institute for Rural Studies) The long view shows that since 1974 farmworkers “have made no progress whatsoever in improving their earnings relative to other production workers in the state.” 

 

strawberry picking

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 1967 0
0

Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, many of us celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving. We load our tables with foods that were said to have been eaten by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans back at the birth of our country. In reality, our Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 under Abraham Lincoln.

 

There is a lot to be said for traditions but not all of it is good.

 

The European tradition in the United States is one of colonialism, as it is in many parts of the world. Colonial influences and outcomes include extraction of natural resources, genocide, and the subsuming of indigenous cultures. Many Native American cultures do not celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday based on the coming together of colonists and native residents. In fact, many feel a sense of loss on this day and spend the day in remembrance of the past lost generations.

Continue reading
in Agriculture 1436 0
0

Beginning July 1, 2015, all California employers must give their employees three paid sick days a year or allow them to accumulate paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Many employers plan to grant employees three days of sick leave at the beginning of each year.

Cal/OSHA tightened its heat-safety regulations effective May 1, 2015 to require "fresh, pure, and suitably cool" water to be located as close as practicable to workers. Employers must provide shade for all workers when the temperature tops 80 degrees, down from 85, and must monitor workers for signs of heat stress when temperatures exceed 95 degrees. All outdoor workers must be trained in a language they understand about the dangers of heat illness.

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 2308 0
0

Beginning July 1, 2015, all California employers must give their employees three paid sick days a year or allow them to accumulate paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Many employers plan to grant employees three days of sick leave at the beginning of each year.

 

Cal/OSHA tightened its heat-safety regulations effective May 1, 2015 to require "fresh, pure, and suitably cool" water to be located as close as practicable to workers. Employers must provide shade for all workers when the temperature tops 80 degrees, down from 85, and must monitor workers for signs of heat stress when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.

 

All outdoor workers must be trained in a language they understand about the dangers of heat illness.

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 1959 0
0

Processing

Farm commodities are often packed and processed by nonfarm workers in nearby plants. For example, Taylor Farms is a major producer of bagged salads, with sales exceeding $1.8 billion a year. Taylor's Salinas bagged salad plant has 2,500 employees who are represented by the Teamsters union, but its 900-employee Tracy salad plant is non-union.

The ballots in a March 2014 election at the Tracy plant were impounded by the National Labor Relations Board because the Teamsters alleged Taylor unlawfully interfered. The Teamsters argue that, because the 600 workers brought to the Tracy plant by temp agencies SlingShot and Abel Mendoza earn $0.50 an hour less than Taylor's Salinas workers, Tracy workers need a contract. The Teamsters say that Taylor intimidated its employees, some of whom are unauthorized, by threatening to introduce E-Verify to check the legal status of employees, and that the E-Verify threat makes workers reluctant to support the Teamsters.

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 3137 0
0

California has about eight million acres of irrigated crop land. A third is planted to perennial fruit and nut crops, a third to field crops such as cotton and rice, and a third to crops that are fed to animals, such as alfalfa and corn. The rising share of crop land planted to perennials has "hardened" the demand for irrigation water, since they must be watered even in drought years.

 

For example, 15 percent of the land in the Westlands Water District is planted to almonds, up from five percent in 2000.

 

In a normal year, about two-thirds of the water used in agriculture is surface water, captured in dams and reservoirs in northern California and transported south via canals to farmers. The other third is groundwater pumped from underground aquifers. Drought reduced the amount of surface water available to farmers by 6.6 million acre feet in 2014 compared with normal years, but farmers compensated by pumping an additional five million acre feet of groundwater.

 

With reduced supplies of water devoted mostly to high-value perennial crops, there were small reductions in farm sales and farm jobs in 2014. Between 420,000 and 700,000 acres of the state's eight million irrigated acres were fallowed in 2014, reducing crop sales by up to $810 million.

The main worry is how to respond to a drought in 2015 and beyond. Groundwater aquifers are a shared resource: as some farmers dig ever-deeper wells, they force others who share to same aquifer to dig deeper as well.

 

California was the last western state to regulate groundwater pumping. A package of bills enacted by the state in 2014 creates local groundwater sustainability agencies to register private wells, monitor the water-measuring devices that must be attached to pumps, and regulate groundwater pumping. These new agencies will impose fees on well owners to finance their activities.

 

Economists have proposed that landowners in each groundwater basin receive the share of sustainable water extraction that reflects their share of land in the basin. The sustainable share of groundwater that could be pumped from the basis would be the average amount extracted and replenished during a decade of "normal" weather.

 

Landowners could extract their sustainable share of the groundwater in the basin for the cost of pumping. However, if they took more, they would have to pay to replace their excess withdrawal. Under such a scheme, there would be no restrictions on groundwater pumping, but excess water extractions would result in payments to the water district that could go to farmers who fallow land and make more water available to others or be used to buy water from outside the basin for replenishment.

 

Orange County has since the 1960s used a version of this cap-and-trade system to manage the extraction of groundwater and prevent salt water intrusion. Economists hope that the challenge of sharing limited groundwater will encourage farmers to embrace water-sharing on a basin-wide basis.

 

A University of California at Davis study estimated that there were almost 7,000 fewer jobs for hired farm workers on crop farms, both year-round and seasonal. The state provided funds to farm worker service organizations to help farm workers, and they reported that the food and rent assistance vouchers they could provide were gone quickly. Agricultural areas of California have large numbers of poor residents, so there is a large pool of persons eligible for assistance.

Continue reading
in Water 1717 0
0
California had farm sales of $45 billion in 2012, including $17.2 billion worth of fruits and nuts, $6.8 billion worth of vegetables and melons, and $3.5 billion worth of horticultural specialties such as greenhouse and nursery products. The value of field crops was $5 billion, making crop sales $32.5 billion or 73 percent of the state's farm sales. Livestock and poultry sales were $12.1 billion, including $6.9 billion or 57 percent from milk. 

In summer 2014, three major farm labor trends stand out: few labor shortages, many labor-saving changes, and segmenting farm labor contractors (FLCs.) 
Continue reading
in Agriculture 2293 0
0

By Lily Dayton

Salinas resident Maricruz Ladino was all too familiar with harassing comments and sexual innuendos tossed around by her co-workers and supervisors while working for over a decade in the agricultural industry. But when she started a job at a Salinas lettuce packing plant in 2005, the harassment escalated. Her supervisor began making sexual advances, she says, insinuating that if she didn’t succumb to his sexual demands he would fire her. Then, one day the supervisor drove her to an isolated field—supposedly to inspect the crops. Instead, Ladino says, he raped her.

“I kept quiet for a long time,” she says in Spanish, explaining how she was afraid to speak out—afraid her supervisor might hurt her more, afraid no one would believe her, afraid of losing her job. As a single mother raising three young daughters on her own, she desperately needed the income to survive. But the abuse continued until she couldn’t take it anymore.

“Finally I said, ‘No más,’” she says, her gaze unfaltering. “I had to speak because, even though I might die, he was going to pay for what he was doing to me.”

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 1986 0
0

The first six months of  2014 were the warmest ever recorded in California. According to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, the past six months were nearly 5º F hotter than the 20th century average and more than 1º F warmer than the previous record, which was set in 1934.

heat risk

Under normal circumstances, drought and increased temperatures are not necessarily connected, but scientists are now exploring the notion that heat can exacerbate dryness via increased evaporation and plant transpiration. Experts already acknowledge that dry conditions can exacerbate heat because when there’s little to no water to evaporate, the heat from the sun more effectively warms the air and the ground. The ridiculously resilient ridge that has prevented winter storms from dropping rain in California during recent years is caused by a system of high pressure thatalso contributes to warm weather.

Temperatures are on the rise throughout the state, easily exceeding triple-digits on a daily basis in warmer inland and southern regions. Even when air temperatures are relatively low, scientists have found that the earth and the oceans are warming beyond any previously recorded levels. Accordingly, California state officials have turned their attention to protecting outdoor workers from the dangerous and potentially lethal impacts of working in the heat during a summer that has proven to be one of extremes.

FARM WORK: A HIGH-HAZARD JOB

As the primary producer of several crops that require hand-harvesting and non-mechanical labor, California has more farm workers than any other state, and the state’s agriculture industry is more dependant on farmerworker labor than at any other point during the past century.

heat risk1

Photo of a man hand weeding in Arvin, CA. Courtesy of  David Bacon

Continue reading
in Heat Risk 2966 0
0

California’s drought has moved far beyond “severe,” and is making national and international headlines because of its far-reaching impacts. Most areas of the state are officially in “extreme” drought, with key coastal regions and agricultural areas in the Central Valley experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions. Political leaders scrambled to pass legislative relief packages as it became clear that the state would have another unusually dry winter. State and local officials have asked residents to reduce water use in homes and businesses. Meanwhile, major state and federal water projects have completely shut off water deliveries to already parched urban areas and agricultural agencies due to inadequate supply.

CAWater1CAWater2

Continue reading
in Water 1802 0
0

It has been 23 years since workers at a massive farming company in Fresno, Calif., led by labor icon Cesar Chavez, organized and voted to have the United Farm Workers union represent them.

Certifying a union does not guarantee a contract, and in the decades since the UFW came to Gerawan Farming, laborers have picked and sorted peaches and grapes without one. As the years have passed, many of the Gerawan workers who worked to unionize have moved on.

It has been so long that, just as a contract finally appeared to be forthcoming this year, some workers clamored to strip the UFW of its right to represent Gerawan workers. While union officials contend workers were prodded by management, the workers who repudiate the UFW ask where the union has been all these years.

"We got surprised because we never knew the union" represented us, said Silvia Lopez, a 15-year employee who has organized the UFW decertification campaign. "So many years working here, and then they show up and say they have a union there."

The situation at Gerawan is raising questions about whether California's landmark agricultural labor law, a signature achievement of Gov. Jerry Brown's first tenure, is working as intended to expedite contract disputes.

 

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 1691 0
0

By Leslie Griffy

Agricultural businesses and the insurance companies that serve them are scrambling to prepare for the changes that health care reform will bring over the next few years.

Many smaller farmers struggle with the details of the Affordable Care Act, such as how to count seasonal farmworkers to determine who they must insure. Employers of more than 50 will face fines if they don’t insure eligible workers.

Meanwhile, three of California’s agricultural-focused health insurance providers required waivers from ACA rules to continue operation. Those waivers expire next year.

“There is a lot of confusion,” said Norm Groot, president of Monterey County Farm Bureau. “I think everyone is really put off with the amount of complexity, particularly for agriculture.”

Continue reading
in Rural Health 2167 0
0

Farmers’ congressional allies are pressuring the Obama administration to ease up on some immigration work-site enforcement, underscoring a conflict at the heart of a broad-based immigration bill.

This week, spurred by complaints from farmers in California’s Central Valley, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly urged the Department of Homeland Security to “redirect” immigration enforcement efforts toward “serious violent crimes” instead of “legitimate agricultural employers and their workers.”

“The reality is that the majority of farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign-born and unauthorized, which is well-known,” Feinstein wrote Tuesday, adding that she’s “afraid that this aggressive worksite enforcement strategy will deprive the agricultural sector of most of its workforce.”

Worksite monitoring has definitely heated up.

Continue reading
in Farm Labor 1408 0
0

By Hannah Guzik

Demetria Martinez is sitting in a state funded children’s center in Oxnard, wrapping her baby daughter in a shawl, when worry invades her face. Her daughter is sick, she says. Something about her heart. The doctors told her, but she didn’t understand.

Martinez is speaking Mixteco—an indigenous Mexican language full of clicks and tones not used in English or Spanish—but she conveys her emotion without words too. Twisting the ends of her rebozo, frayed from all the baby wearing and worrying, she says what she does understand is that she’s still making payments on a $1,700 hospital bill for the tests doctors did on her 5-month-old daughter.

“I can’t afford it,” she says, speaking through an interpreter. “I’m worried too much about it, and I don’t know what to do. They said her heart isn’t working right. They said her heart is not OK.”

Continue reading
in Indigenous Farmworkers 1698 0
0

By New American Media Health Editor Viji Sundaram

Originally published on the New American Media website on June 30, 2013.

New American Media Editor’s Note: After spending two years among indigenous farm workers in Mexico and in labor camps in the United States, medical anthropologist Dr. Seth M. Holmes documents how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism undermine their health and access to health care in his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. He spoke to NAM Health Editor Viji Sundaram.

Continue reading
in Immigration 1792 0
0

The recent senate border security decision (June 24, 2013) to increase the size of the Border Patrol by 20,000 agents, add 700 miles of fence, and deploy $3.2 billion in military equipment is likely to increase border deaths if current Border Patrol policies are continued. Most media coverage of the senate agreement and on the increasing deaths in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands does not examine the ways in which Border Patrol policies and actions contribute directly to the high number of deaths on the border this year. For example, last week’s LA Times article titled, “In 30 days, Border Patrol rescues 177 people from Arizona desert,” leaves out crucial background details related to the ways in which Border Patrol policies directly contribute to rising numbers of deaths on the border.

Continue reading
in Immigration 1559 0
0

In California, farmworkers in general, and the indigenous in particular, are undercounted by official census takers.  Ignorance about the indigenous population—one of the poorest groups in California—has led to widespread unawareness of this community’s needs; service providers in some regions may even be unaware of the community’s existence.  The language barriers and the unique cultural traits of the population make it critical that customized programs be implemented to accommodate the significant differences with other Mexican immigrants.  These videos are posted both for the stories conveyed and to introduce viewers to the sound of some indigenous Mexican languages. Here, Alejandro is speaking Triqui and Emila is speaking Chatino. For more information and videos go to the Indigenous Farmworker Study

Alejandro - English from Indigenous Farmworkers on Vimeo.

Emilia - English from Indigenous Farmworkers on Vimeo.

Continue reading
Tagged in: Agricultural Labor
in Indigenous Farmworkers 1705 0
0

Housing

It is difficult for farm workers to find affordable housing in coastal counties such as Monterey and Ventura with expanding labor-intensive agricultural sectors.  Strawberry production is increasing.  Most growers hire 1.5 workers for each acre to pick strawberries several times a week during a season that can last several months.
Rents in these metro countries are often $1,200 a month or more for two-bedroom units.  For example, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in Monterey County is $1,223 in 2013, and for Ventura County $1,500 (
www.huduser.org/datasets/fmr.html).  Many farm workers, especially those who are in an area only for seasonal harvests, live with friends and relatives or in converted garages, leading to overcrowding.

b2ap3_thumbnail_RV.png

A $110,000 report on housing for Napa farm workers prepared by Bay Area Economics was released March 1, 2013.  It estimated that a peak 7,000 workers are employed in Napa county agriculture.

Interviewers found that 95 percent of the 350 farm workers contacted for the study were born in Mexico, but 54 percent consider Napa County their permanent home. Napa County has farm worker centers in Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville with a total of 180 beds. The report found that 46 percent of center residents consider the farm worker centers to be their permanent homes and urged that the centers, which are subsidized by a $10 an acre assessment on wine-grape growers who do not provide housing to their workers, be maintained.


After Riverside County cracked down on the informal housing often used by farm workers in the Coachella Valley, a mobile home park known as Duroville opened on land owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian tribe, escaping the county's jurisdiction.

Duroville was soon populated by 4,000 mostly Purepecha Indians from Michoacan who pick table grapes in Coachella and in the San Joaquin Valley. A federal judge in 2009 ordered Duroville to be closed after alternative accommodations were found for residents.  With $28 million in federal, state and local funds, 183 homes for Duroville residents were built in Mountain View Estates.  Mountain View residents pay $425 a month in rent; less than the $450 many paid in Duroville.
 

Desert Hot Springs and Coachella were defined by USDA as rural in 1990, when each had less than 20,000 residents and were not in a metro area.  Today, their populations have grown to 26,000 and 41,000, respectively, and they are no longer eligible for USDA rural housing loans.

 

 

Continue reading
in Agriculture 1762 0
0

By David Runsten, Richard Mines and Sandra Nichols

The great failure of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was that it did not provide for a continuing legal flow of new immigrants to manually–skilled labor markets. People will keep coming if there is a demand for their labor and what is required is a policy that legalizes and manages this flow in the most efficient and least-cost manner. The research strongly suggests that the net economic impact of immigrant labor is positive, and that employment of U.S. workers is highly complementary to immigrant labor in manually-skilled labor markets.

Continue reading
in Immigration 1949 0
0

Sign Up for our E-newsletter

blog-butn

© COPYRIGHT 2011. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE FOR RURAL STUDIES.