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January 2008, Volume 14, Number 1

California: Wages, Vans, CRLA

California's minimum wage was $7.50 an hour in 2007, or $15,600 for 2,080 hours of work a year. The California Budget Project in October 2007 estimated that an individual needed almost twice as much, $28,126, to live in Los Angeles if the person did not receive health insurance from the employer and rented rather than owned their housing. The federal poverty line for a family of four was $20,650 in 2007.

California's minimum wage rose from $7.50 to $8 an hour on January 1, 2008.

The city of Los Angeles won a court victory in December 2007, allowing a $10.64 an hour minimum wage at Los Angeles Airport-area hotels to go into effect. The city argued that because much of the hotels' business depended on the city-owned airport, the city could impose a minimum wage on the hotels. The hotels successfully challenged the city in May 2007, but in December 2007 the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed and allowed the law to go into effect. About half of the 3,500 workers employed by the airport-area hotels will see their wages rise under the law.

Vans. Since 2003, grant funds have allowed Caltrans to provide over 120 vans that farm workers can use to ride to work in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. The program is spreading to Santa Barbara and Ventura countries, which each received $3 million to purchase 30 vans that will carry 14 workers. Each is expected to pay $5 a day to the volunteer driver, who is also expected to be a farm worker who has extra training and appropriate licenses.

Critics say the state should not subsidize a program that benefits workers who are illegally in the country.

CRLA. California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), which received $7.2 million from the Legal Services Corporation in FY07, was verbally attacked by several House members in October 2007. They allege that LSC funds were used by CRLA for political advocacy and to represent unauthorized foreigners. CRLA, which is resisting subpoenas from the LSC inspector general, said that most of the money spent on farm workers that the LSC IG wants to investigate came from a $3 million, three-year grant from the California Endowment Agricultural Work Initiative.

CRLA says that only 60 percent of its annual $12 million budget is from the LSC, and that it takes steps to ensure that its clients are legal US residents. CRLA has been investigated three times between 2000 and 2007.

California's Attorney General in Fall 2007 sued Colorado-based Brinas Corp, a drywall installer that did not pay minimum wage, overtime, payroll taxes and workers' compensation insurance premiums. The suit, which was filed under California's Unfair Competition Law, could force Brinas to forfeit the profits earned as a result of underpaying employees and failing to pay taxes.

Food Safety. Monterey county launched its Agricultural Field Toilet Inspection Program in November 2007, putting seals of approval on toilets that were clean and had supplies; the program is funded by levies on employers with toilets. The inspections began with Premium Packing, which has contracts with 20 growers in Monterey County.

William Bolthouse Farms of Bakersfield, which ships 35,000 tons of carrots a month, laid off 10 percent of its 2,000 workers in November 2007, giving them 60 days notice.

Almost 10 percent of the 5,300 inmates at the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga have contracted valley fever (coccidioidomycosis), a disease caused by spores in the soil that infect the lungs. Prison officials blame the valley fever outbreak on the construction of a nearby state hospital.

Gregory W. Griggs, "Vans get farmworkers to the fields," Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2008. Dennis Gale, "Ag Chief: Problems with Farm Bill Remain," Associated Press, January 7, 2008.

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