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October 2018, Volume 24, Number 4

California: Travel, Housing

California Rural Legal Assistance sued several employers who bus their workers from employer-provided housing to the fields, alleging that the workers should be paid for the time they ride to and from the fields because they do not know where to report for work and because the workers have no way to get to work other than company buses.

In Morillion v. Royal Packing, the California Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that workers who were required to ride Royal's buses to and from the fields must be paid for travel time. The Court added that "employers may provide optional free transportation to employees without having to pay them for their travel time, as long as employers do not require employees to use this transportation."

CRLA alleges that farm workers have no choice but to use employer-provided transportation, so that employer-provided transportation for H-2A and other workers housed by employers is mandatory rather than optional. CRLA noted that some workers were not told where to report the next day, and that all H-2A workers use employer-provided buses.

Farm employers have formed an organization to defend against travel time suits.

Housing. Guadalupe, a city in Santa Barbara county near an expanding strawberry industry, enacted an emergency ordinance in 2014 to prevent Fresh Harvest from housing H-2A workers in La Plaza Villa Apartments, a 74-unit complex located at 725 Olivera St. H-2A regulations allow a minimum 50 square feet per worker; the city required a minimum 500 square feet per resident.

In 2017, a jury found that the emergency Guadalupe ordinance violated the rights of La Plaza's owner, who was planning to sell La Plaza to Fresh Harvest. In July 2018, the city of Guadalupe appealed the decision that it violated the rights of La Plaza's owner by restricting high-density housing.

California operates 24 centers that house 10,000 farm workers and their families at low cost, typically a dollar a day per bedroom. The centers aim to serve migrant families, so they require tenants to live at least 50 miles away for three of the previous six months. SB 28 exempts families with school-aged children from the 50-mile rule until 2024 to maintain continuity in schooling for children.

Coops. California Harvesters is a labor trust that aims to replace FLCs in Kern county by eliminating the five to 10 percent of FLC commission that represents profits. CEO Jesse Gomez says that the Renewable Resources Group that bought Sun World in 2013 prepaid California Harvesters $500,000 to develop a stable table grape harvest workforce.

California Harvesters employees must work 1,000 hours to become members of the trust, and the five worker members on the nine-member board help to decide what to do with any profits. California Harvesters pays $11.25 an hour and offers a bonus for picking and packing table grapes and provides health insurance. Gomez says that California Harvesters builds worker loyalty by treating workers well and involving them in decision making.

California Harvesters in summer 2018 had 17 supervisors and 450 employees; supervisors were urged to respect and train employees rather than threaten them. California Harvesters will try to offer its summer grape pickers winter work as citrus harvesters and pruners.

A Fresno Superior Court jury in August 2018 convicted Efren Alvarez of one felony count of farm labor trafficking and three felony counts of extortion. Alvarez hired Mexican workers, helped them to rent an apartment, and kept their documents as a security deposit while they worked in 2016 for $10 an hour during 54-hour weeks.

The California Highway Patrol's Safety & Farm Labor Vehicle Education (SAFE) program was created after a 1999 accident that killed 13 farm workers. SAFE officers inspect and certify Farm Labor Vehicles.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, 82, was the first chair of the ALRB in 1975 and a leading voice for immigrants. Mahony mishandled claims of sexual abuse by priests, leading to a $666 million settlement in Los Angeles and his replacement by Jose Gomez. The US Catholic population of 70 million is sustained by immigration.

Ben Abatti farmed 24,000 acres with 7,000 workers in the Imperial Valley with his brother Tony and fought an early make-whole remedy against the ALRB for interference in a 1978 decertification election. His son Mike became a land and water magnate. The Abattis farm melons, broccoli, sugar beets and alfalfa on 20,000 acres, including 7,000 acres farmed by Mike Abatti, who received over 26,500 acre feet of water from the Imperial Irrigation District.

The IID receives 3.1 million acre feet of water a year from the Colorado River, which is experiencing a drought. Mike Abatti sued the IID after it adopted an equitable distribution plan to allocate reduced water supplies among its users. The IID is appealing the decision, arguing that the elected five-member board of the IID must decide how to deal with reduced water supplies.