Labor-related legislation awaits governor’s action


Issue Date: September 10, 2014
By Christine Souza

An assortment of bills that could impact the state's agricultural employers has moved through the California Legislature, and must be signed or vetoed by Gov. Brown by the end of the month.

California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Labor Affairs Bryan Little said the 2013-14 legislative session featured a variety of bills on topics related to agricultural employment.

"We have kept close watch on labor-related bills," Little said. "By the end of the session, we made good progress by working with some of the bills' authors to get constructive amendments on bills we opposed, and by fighting to defeat those we could not fix."

One bill in that latter category was Assembly Bill 2416, which would have allowed employees to record a wage lien on an employer's real and personal property for wages and other compensation that an employee claims were unpaid. The worker would not have been required to provide any proof of non-payment and no neutral third party would have reviewed the placement of the lien. It failed in the state Senate.

"AB 2416 was a bad bill that would have allowed a worker to impose a lien merely by claiming non-payment of wages," Little said. "A lot of members of the Legislature understood our concerns about this bill, and proponents could not find more than 13 senators out of 40 who were willing to vote for it."

But several bills opposed by farm employers advanced to the governor's desk:

  • Senate Bill 25, which undermines appeals by an employer who contests an Agricultural Labor Relations Board order imposing a union contract.
  • AB 1522, which requires employers to provide any employee who has worked in California for 30 days with paid sick days for the employee's own illness or that of a family member.
  • AB 1792, which requires the state Department of Finance to develop and publish a list of private employers employing more than 100 people who receive public assistance through Medi-Cal.
  • AB 1897, which imposes joint liability on a "client employer" for the Labor Code violations of any "labor contractor" related to wages and workers' compensation insurance for the contractor's employees who work on the premises of the client employer.

San Luis Obispo County farmer Carlos Castaneda, who is also a farm labor contractor, said he hopes the governor will veto AB 1897.

"I believe Gov. Brown has vetoed other, similar bills in the past and hopefully, he recognizes that this is more harmful to businesses in California than helpful," said Castaneda, who chairs the CFBF labor committee. "In what country—or on what planet—do you start molding two businesses together and saying you are responsible for the actions of that other business? We are currently responsible for our own actions and there are laws that already regulate this."

On other legislation, Farm Bureau and other agricultural employers negotiated with the bills' authors to remove opposition. As an example, Little mentioned SB 1087 by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel.

"Sen. Monning introduced SB 1087 to improve protection of female farmworkers against sexual harassment, a goal Farm Bureau supports," said Little, who also serves as chief operating officer for the Farm Employers Labor Service. "But the bill in its original form had a lot in it that didn't really have much to do with its stated purpose."

The bill would have allowed the state labor commissioner to revoke the license of a farm labor contractor whose supervisor committed sexual harassment, but gave the contractor no remedy to avoid having the license revoked.

"We worked with the bill's proponents to get a safe harbor for contractors, so their supervisors can sign a statement that they have not committed sexual harassment, to avoid losing their state license," Little said.

The bill now requires one additional hour of training for farm labor contractors in prevention of sexual harassment and adds other provisions. It has been sent to the governor.

Agricultural employers also removed opposition to AB 1634, which would have restricted employers' ability to appeal citations issued by Cal/OSHA. Little said the bill was amended to limit its scope and to avoid changing an expedited hearing process for serious Cal/OSHA violations. The bill advanced to the governor's desk.

Farm Bureau supported a change to state law contained in AB 1660, which also passed the Legislature. It clarifies that an action taken by an employer to comply with federal immigration law is not a violation of California law.

The bill came as follow-up to a law enacted last year that allows people who cannot prove they are in the U.S. legally to get a driver's license and also prohibits discrimination against people who use such a driving privilege card.

Vegetable grower Pete Aiello, general manager of Uesugi Farms Inc. in Gilroy, said AB 1660 will help agricultural employers.

"We depend on migrant labor to do a majority of our work, much of which involves transporting product and employees and equipment," Aiello said. "If we can't legally put these folks on the road in a company vehicle, our businesses are severely impacted and it makes our operations virtually impossible to run, so this bill is huge for our industry."

Now that the legislative session has ended, Little said, employers' representatives will focus on regulations proposed by Cal/OSHA to revise the Heat Illness Prevention Standard and the safety of employees working at night. A public hearing on the heat illness standard is set for Sept. 25 in San Diego.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.