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April 2007, Volume 13, Number 2

California: EEEC, Housing, Health

EEEC. California's Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition is a federal-state effort established in 2005 to combat the underground economy OR About 8,000 small businesses a year are inspected, including in agriculture, construction, restaurants and garments.

During the first quarter of 2006, some 260 farming operations were inspected, and 85 percent had violations. Some had more than one violation, and the 222 farms with violations had a total of 761 violations, for projected penalties of $1.3 million. Violation rates were higher in construction and garments, where 96 to 97 percent of inspections found violations of labor laws.

The U.S. Department of Labor fined G.V. Farm Labor Service $37,600 in February 2007 after an investigation resulting from a May 16, 2006 traffic accident that killed three farm workers near Selma, California. GV was found to be using unsafe vehicles to transport workers to Tos Farms of Hanford.

Workers Compensation. Some 780,000 California workers were hurt on the job in 2006 and treated under a state workers' compensation law that was overhauled in 2004. A survey of 1,001 injured workers concluded that most received quick, competent medical treatment and were back on the job within three days. However, almost a quarter of those surveyed were dis-satisfied with their care.

SB 452 would exempt California farmers with less than $100,000 in annual farm sales from workers compensation if they use only unpaid relatives on their farms. About 60,000 of the state's 80,000 farms would be allowed to drop workers compensation under SB 452. Advocates for the exemption say that workers compensation costs at least $500 a year for a family member, and the exemption would especially benefit limited-English speaking Asian farmers in the Fresno area.

California's workers compensation system costs $22 billion a year; employer rates have been cut in half since 2003.

The California Supreme Court in April 2007 ruled that managers or assistant managers in retail, food service, insurance and banking can receive back pay for up to three years if they are required to work through meal and rest breaks required by state law. In many firms, "managers" are considered exempt and not given state-required 10-minute paid breaks after four hours of work and a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours worked.

In November 2006, IBM agreed to pay $65 million to settle claims that it illegally denied overtime pay to 32,000 computer technicians.

Coachella. The Coachella Valley Farmworkers Survey interviewed 525 farm workers in 2006, reporting that 54 percent were legal immigrants, 37 percent unauthorized, and nine percent US citizens. About 71 percent do not speak English, and 72 percent live in the area year round, although 58 percent reported going to Mexico for medical care.

About 75 percent of the workers interviewed earned less than $15,000 a year. Two-bedroom apartments in the Coachella Valley rent for an average $920 a month.

Housing. State law requires that farms that house five or more workers have their "labor camps" inspected. Most dairies house workers and their families in mobile homes- one farmer with 800 cows housed six employees in this way.

The Wasco Housing Authority in Kern county manages about 200 apartments in agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide low-cost housing to farmworkers. The Authority sent notices to three tenants that their leases will be terminated because they lack documents proving they are legal U.S. residents, prompting protests in January 2007.

Kimberly Pierceall, "Survey Harvests the Details," Press Enterprise, March 6, 2007.

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