CIRS Blog about Rural California

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California enacted a law in 2016 (SB 3) raising the minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour by 2022 and requiring farmers to pay 8/40 overtime (AB 1066), that is, 1.5 times normal wages after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week by 2022 (employers with 25 or fewer employees have extra time to comply). The state's minimum wage went to $10.50 an hour on January 1, 2017.

Western Growers surveyed its members in November 2016, and 150 growers reported that they plan to increase mechanization (77 percent) and reduce production of labor-intensive crops in California (33 percent), including 60 growers who hired fewer than 100 workers at peak.

Responding growers reported that their employees worked an average 9.6 hours a day and 56 hours a week at $12.40 an hour, suggesting 5.5 day workweeks. Instead of paying overtime wages, most farms said they will reduce hours to 8/40, so that workers would be employed 16 fewer hours a week. A third of respondents said they would reduce benefits provided to farmworkers because of higher minimum wages and 8/40 overtime by having employees contribute more for heath insurance or reduce employer 401K and retirement contributions.

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By Lily Dayton 

As summer wanes and students head back to school, farmers on the Central Coast are draping fields with plastic, preparing for fall fumigations that will sterilize soils before the next growing season. And if previous years’ trends continue, more than 35,000 Monterey County schoolchildren will attend schools near fields treated with high levels of potentially dangerous pesticides—including chemicals that are known to harm the brain and nervous system, cause genetic mutations and disrupt hormonal regulation.

“I’m really worried about our students and how it affects their developing bodies and brains,” says Karin Wanless, an intervention teacher who works with kindergarten and first-grade students in the Pajaro Valley school district, which straddles agricultural areas in both Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. Some schools within the district are surrounded by fields ranked highest in the state for pounds of pesticides applied, yet application regulations differ between the two counties.

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By Anna Challet

 

The safety net for uninsured Californians is full of holes – and those holes are much bigger for the state’s undocumented people.

 

That’s one of the main findings of a new study by the statewide health care advocacy coalition Health Access. The organization’s executive director Anthony Wright says the "uneven safety net" puts the state’s remaining uninsured in a position to “live sicker, die younger, and be one emergency away from financial ruin.”

 

“Counties should maintain strong safety nets for the remaining uninsured, through the county-led programs that provide primary and preventative care,” Wright said on a press call. “Counties that do not serve the undocumented should reconsider this policy, and focus their indigent care programs on the remaining uninsured population that actually has the most need for a safety net.”

 

Over a year into the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, some 3 million Californians still lack health insurance. For many, that’s because coverage is still unaffordable. And almost half of the 3 million are undocumented, and thus shut out from federal health programs.

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By Lily Dayton

In the foothills of the Pajaro Valley, dozens of nursery workers dressed in jeans and work boots file into a warehouse. It’s just past lunchtime on a weekday. Normally the workers would be heading back to the white-tented greenhouses to tend to the broccoli, chard and kale shoots that grow from nursery flats, but today they are attending the final presentation of Speedling Incorporated’s Safety Week, a workshop on sexual harassment and assault.

“Today we are going to talk about a topic that is taboo in many cultures,” Maria Barranco says in Spanish. Barranco is the prevention program manager of Monarch Services, a domestic and sexual violence prevention agency in Santa Cruz County.

Most of the 45 employees in attendance are men, ranging in age from just barely adult to grizzled middle age. But several women sit among the group. Everyone is engaged, listening intently to Barranco and four prevention specialists—all dressed in matching black shirts with a “Campos Seguros” (Spanish for “safe fields”) logo on the front. On their backs, the shirts read “Lives free from violence and abuse.”

When Barranco asks, “Does anyone know what sexual harassment is?” several workers raise their hands. One man says, “It’s when you touch someone or talk to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.”

This workshop is a field test of the format that Monarch’s Campos Seguros program is currently using to develop a nine-week series to educate agricultural workers about sexual violence prevention. The workshop series will pilot in the fall, and there will be separate programs for men, women and children.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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

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By Hannah Guzik

When Irene Gomez emigrated from Mexico at 14, she immediately began working in the strawberry fields in the Oxnard Plain.

The work was exhausting, poorly paid and unreliable — but that was the least of her problems. She was also helping a friend escape from a violent relationship and was worried about living in the U.S. without legal papers.

She was overwhelmed, but felt she had nowhere to turn.

Gomez speaks Mixteco, an indigenous language that existed before the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. She’s among the estimated 165,000 indigenous farmworkers who have immigrated to California in the last two decades. About 60 percent of them do not speak English or Spanish.

Although many counties have programs that provide at least some medical care to this population, access to mental health services is extremely limited in most parts of the state.

This is despite the fact that indigenous farmworkers are believed to face higher amounts of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population, said Sandra Barrientos, a therapist with the Ventura County Health Care Agency.

 

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Impact of California’s drought on farmworkers

The effects of this year’s drought in California are being discussed in both statewide and national media. California produces vegetables, fruits, nuts and dairy products for most of the country and for international export. Debate rages about what foods use the most water, what products will be most affected and how consumer food bills will increase. One of the groups of people most seriously impacted by the reduction in planting but least discussed is the farmworker population.

Farm laborers are already one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population and the drought this year will put them even more at risk. The average annual income for a farmworker is $13,800. This places many farmworkers at risk for hunger, poor housing and subsequent health impacts. In some rural California communities that rely almost exclusively on agriculture for work, unemployment rates are already high, even at peak season.

Drought Map 

 

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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.”

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EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Washington apple grower Evans Fruit in June 2010 for allowing a ranch manager to sexually harass female workers, and obtained a temporary restraining order to protect class members and potential witnesses from retaliation. After 12 days of testimony, a federal jury in 2013 found no sexually hostile work environment at Evans.

The case against Evans, which employs 1,200 to 1,300 seasonal farm workers, began with a complaint by three women who alleged that they were constructively discharged after supervisors subjected them to "ongoing sexual comments, propositioning, and physical groping." Evans and the ranch manager denied the allegations. A federal judge in April 2013 dismissed a September 2011 EEOC suit against Evans that alleged Evans retaliated against 10 farm workers who attended a meeting at a public library where EEOC representatives explained sexual harassment and the remedies.

PBS's Frontline aired an associated documentary, Rape in the Fields, in June 2013 that profiled the women and the ranch manager in the Evans case.

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By Kate Moser
California Health Report

California has some of the nation’s toughest laws meant to ensure equal health care services for people who aren’t fluent in English.

But many limited English-speaking patients still lack the interpreters necessary to have meaningful communication with medical providers, particularly in emergency scenarios. The problem is acute for the communities of indigenous Mexican immigrants in California, advocates and practitioners say.

“The root of the problem is that until fairly recently, the huge indigenous population in California was under the radar,” said Sandra Young, a family nurse practitioner at a clinic in Oxnard and the president of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project.

Many indigenous Mexican immigrants are farmworkers, the most recent arrivals in the state’s agricultural labor market, according to the Indigenous Farmworker Study, a California Endowment-funded study completed in 2010.

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Recovery in the Valley

California began to recover from the 2008-09 recession in 2012. Employment rose from 16.2 million in January 2012 to 16.5 million in November 2012, and the unemployment rate dropped from 11.3 to 9.8 percent.

In Fresno county, a bellwether for the San Joaquin Valley, the labor force was stable at 441,000 in 2012 but employment rose from 367,000 to 380,000. Fresno's unemployment rate dropped from 17 percent in January 2012 to 14 percent in October 2012.

fresno-county-map

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Originally posted on the New America Media website on Jan. 23, 2013.

Editor’s Note: There are an estimated 600,000 crop workers, and an additional 20,000 livestock workers, in California at any given time. Theirs are physically demanding jobs that carry a high risk of occupational injury – yet the vast majority of these workers lack health insurance. That could change in 2014 when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, although significant barriers will need to be overcome between now and then, if most farmworkers are to benefit. Don Villarejo has worked for more than three decades as a researcher and advocate on behalf of California farmworkers, and has authored major studies on farmworker health in the state. He recently spoke to New America Media editor Jacob Simas.

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Interviews with female farm workers were conducted by Vallerye Mosquera and Luis Magana in 2011. The stories below were excerpted from three of these interviews and edited by Gail Wadsworth for posting here.

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Despite the most stringent regulations in the U.S., agricultural workers in California continue to die from heat related illness, a preventable outcome, and are at higher risk than other workers exposed to hot environments. The search for effective and feasible solutions must involve diverse approaches appropriate for hired farm workers.

A current research project titled, “Reducing the risk of heat-related illness in western agricultural workers” brings together investigators from medicine, epidemiology, public health, physiology, rural sociology and community outreach and education. The group’s goal is to obtain novel data on internal body temperature as it relates to crop type and geography, external heat, and internal metabolic loading.

This long-term collaborative research project between the University of California Western Center for Agricultural Worker Health and Safety and the California Institute for Rural Studies will gather behavioral, physiological and environmental data from California agricultural workers and environments that will allow us to assess vulnerability to heat related illness, provide the methodology to test potential strategies in the fields, and disseminate results to stakeholders. The project employs innovative techniques for both understanding and evaluating potential solutions to reduce the risk of heat related illness in varied agricultural settings.

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Originally published on the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet blog.

 

Agriculture employs more than one billion people worldwide—about 34 percent of global workers—making it the second-largest source of employment globally. Yet agricultural workers remain one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), the global agricultural workforce is “among the most socially vulnerable; the least organized into trade unions; employed under the poorest health, safety and environmental conditions; and is the least likely to have access to effective forms of social security and protection.”

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Filmmaker and photographer U. Roberto Romano wrote an op-ed piece for the website Media Voices for Children for the World Day Against Child Labor on June 12, 2012.

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by Gail Wadsworth and Vallerye Mosquera

The California Institute for Rural Studies, University of California, Davis and the Organización de Trabajadores Agrícolas de California recently completed a collaborative research project that focused on identifying the residential and community factors related to heat stress for farmworkers living in Stockton, California and the surrounding region. The goal of this research was to create a pilot tool for assessing community and residential site factors (i.e., those factors to which they are exposed outside of the agricultural work environment) that can exacerbate farmworkers’ exposure to heat and increase their risk of heat-related illness. Photo_1web

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There are many issues related to California’s Central Valley that have been in the news recently. Topics such as social justice, farmworker health and labor conditions, immigration and its role in labor fluctuations/shortages, how pesticides are affecting drainwater and the health of people and animals living in the Valley and the ability of lawmakers to shift the future of agriculture in the country. This post is a collection of these issues. Hopefully this will be an opportunity to learn more about a topic you were unaware of, or a chance to learn more about issues currently influencing the region.

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In most jobs, if you have to spend even part of your workday exerting yourself under the hot summer sun, you’re likely to have drinking water nearby. And, if you don’t, you probably won’t be penalized for going to find some. But for many farmworkers in California, the largest agricultural producer in the country, the freedom to hydrate isn’t always so straightforward.

Even as temperatures climb above 90 degrees F, many of the state’s 400,000 farmworkers don’t have access to shade; or the water station is too far from where they are picking a crop, and they have to put off getting a drink. And since farmworkers are so frequently paid on a piece-rate basis rather than hourly, there’s strong incentive to put off that drink, if available at all, for as long as possible.

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