Governor acts on variety of farm labor legislation


Issue Date: October 8, 2014
By Dave Kranz

In vetoing a union-backed bill that would have forced implementation of a contract imposed by the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board—even during appeal—Gov. Brown said the state should look at "the entire process" involving agricultural union election disputes and contract enforcement.

The veto of the bill, Senate Bill 25 by Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, came as the governor acted on a variety of bills of interest to agricultural employers at the end of the 2013-14 legislative session. Among those bills, the governor signed legislation that will require agricultural employers to provide sick leave to their employees, and will make employers potentially liable for labor violations committed by contractors they hire to perform on-farm services.

Farm groups expressed gratitude at the veto of SB 25, which would have shifted the burden of proof for an employer who wanted to contest an ALRB order to implement a collective-bargaining agreement written by a mediator.

Bryan Little, director of labor affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said SB 25 would have made appeals of ALRB-ordered contracts practically impossible.

"It tipped the scale too far and denied farm employers the basic right to contest an action of a state board," Little said.

In his veto message, Gov. Brown said both contract enforcement and election disputes should be considered, so the process is "balanced and fair."

"This bill only addresses contract enforcement," Brown said. "We should look at the entire process before making further changes."

The sick-leave bill, Assembly Bill 1522 by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, will make California what Gonzalez called "the first state in the nation to guarantee paid sick days for every single private-sector worker in the state."

Under the law, which takes effect next July 1, employees will earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers may limit sick leave for employees to 24 hours of leave in a calendar year as needed for themselves or due to the illness of a close family member.

Farm Bureau's Little, who also serves as chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service, said employees will become eligible to accrue sick leave after they have worked in California for at least 30 days, and become eligible to use the paid sick leave once they have worked in California for 90 days.

Farmers who hire people on a seasonal basis may not have offered a sick-leave policy in the past, Little said, but will need to offer sick leave under the new law.

"Even if their employees don't work long enough—that is, 90 days in a year—to earn the right to use the sick leave, they're still going to have to have a policy to provide for accrual and tracking of that sick leave," he said.

Little said the law allows employers to cap total accrual of sick leave at 48 hours per year, and does not require workers to be compensated for unused sick leave when they end their employment.

The "client employer liability" bill, AB 1897 by Assembly Member Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, makes a "client employer" who hires a contractor to provide employees or services liable for a contractor's Labor Code violations on wages and workers' compensation insurance.

Describing the new law as "very broad in scope," Little said AB 1897 would make employers who hire outside contractors to perform work on their farms responsible for ensuring that those contractors pay legally required wages and obtain workers' compensation insurance—responsibilities previously reserved for the actual employer of those workers.

"Farmers are going to want to be certain that they know that the contractors they're doing business with—whether it's a pesticide applicator or a farm labor contractor—are minding their p's and q's," he said. "You have more incentive than you've ever had to make sure you're doing business with someone who's doing everything the right way."

Gov. Brown also signed several other bills of interest to agricultural employers.

SB 1087 by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, requires sexual harassment-prevention training for farm labor contractors and supervisors; requires supervisorial employees to be trained annually on sexual harassment prevention; and requires farmworkers to be trained at time of hire on their rights related to sexual harassment.

Originally, Little said, the bill also placed "significant, new burdens" on farm labor contractors that were unrelated to the goal of preventing sexual harassment. Once the bill was amended to delete those unrelated provisions, Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups removed their opposition to the bill.

"Providing additional protection for female farmworkers against sexual harassment is a worthy goal that we support," Little said.

AB 1634 by Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, originally would have restricted employers' rights to appeal Cal/OSHA citations. Little said the bill was "extensively amended" to narrow its scope and to avoid revising an expedited hearing process for serious violations. Therefore, Farm Bureau removed its opposition to the bill.

AB 1660 by Assembly Member Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, clarifies that action taken by an employer to comply with federal immigration law does not then violate state law. The bill—supported by Farm Bureau—clarifies an earlier state law that allows undocumented California residents to apply for driver's licenses.

According to Alejo, AB 1660 takes steps including clarifying antidiscrimination provisions in the earlier law and strengthening provisions dealing with confidentiality of an individual's personal information.

Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

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