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January 2023, Volume 29, Number 1

California: Laws, H-2A

Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed bills affecting H-2A and unauthorized workers. AB 857 would have required employers to inform H-2A workers of their rights and to pay H-2A workers for travel time if the employer required the workers to ride on employer-provided transportation. AB 2847 would have established a pilot program to provide up to $300 a week for 20 weeks in unemployment insurance benefits to jobless unauthorized workers.

Vino Farms in Lodi gave preferential treatment to the H-2A workers that were provided by Premium Employment Services of Salinas, leading to $55,000 in back wages for 14 US workers and $21,000 in CMPs in October 2022. In FY20 and FY21, DOL investigated 735 US cases for H-2A violations and recovered more than $9 million in back wages for more than 13,000 workers while assessing $9.5 million in civil money penalties.

Some 19,000 California workers filed claims for $338 million in unpaid wages in 2021, but the Labor Commissioner rarely dealt with their claims within the prescribed 135 days. The LC has a $166 million budget to support 840 investigators, but a third of LC jobs are vacant; the LC sometimes partners with Workers Centers to detect wage theft. Workers can sue their employers for unpaid wages under the state’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), and some 6,500 PAGA suits were filed in 2021.

One count found 19 workers centers throughout the US focused on farm workers, including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida and the Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste in Oregon.

The California Agricultural Network sued Casey Houweling for leaving CAN with $3 million of workers comp claims when he laid off 486 employees and sold a 160-acre Camarillo greenhouse property to cannabis grower Glass House in 2021 for $93 million. Over 100 ex-employees had WC claims pending that CAN had to pay. Houweling rehired some of them in a new greenhouse tomato-growing business.

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