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July 2023, Volume 29, Number 3

California: Worker Unrest

Over 100 workers picketed Vino Farms in Healdsburg alleging unsafe working conditions, including 12 who were laid off in 2021. Vino Farms also employs H-2A workers, and was penalized by DOL in 2022 for favoring them over US workers.

WHD assessed $99,000 in CMPs against Next Crop Inc. of Los Baños in May 2023, and $66,000 in CMPs against the 850-acre Pebble Ridge Vineyards & Vine Estates LLC in Paicines, because Next Crop used unlicensed drivers and charged workers for transportation costs. Some $66,500 was assessed against Noble Vineyards Management of Ukiah for failing to pay US workers the same wages as H-2A workers and not reimbursing H-2A travel costs.

Across the US, WHD conducted 880 agricultural investigations in FY22 and found almost $6 million in back wages due to 8,300 workers.

Some strawberry harvesters in Lompoc and Santa Maria went on strike in June 2023 when their employer tried to change from a piece rate to an hourly wage with a bonus. The workers, who demanded a piece rate of $3 a flat, soon returned to work.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta grew up at UFW headquarters in La Paz; his parents worked for the UFW. Bonta in April 2023 called for ways to identify good farm employers who comply with labor laws so that they can be rewarded.

The Linnell Farm Labor Center has 191 apartments near Visalia that charge $513 a month for two-bedroom apartments; tenants are legal US residents who do farm work and have low incomes. Managers of the four Tulare county farm labor centers often failed to verify the documents provided by tenants. The Tulare Housing Authority began to re-verify tenant documents in 2023, resulting in some tenants being asked to leave.

Some worker advocates alleged that the Tulare Housing Authority was re-verifying tenant documents to open beds for H-2A workers, who since 2018 may be housed in farm labor centers built with USDA Section 514 housing support. In April 2023, there were about 30 vacant units in the four Tulare centers and over 100 families on a waiting list to move in.

Huron’s Latino Equity Advocacy & Policy Institute has a fleet of E-cars that residents use to get to medical and other appointments. Huron has about 6,000 residents. The Green Raiteros program was funded by a $1 million grant from the California Air Resources Board and private foundations, and the $150,000 annual budget is met by public and private funds. Other cities are experimenting with E-vehicles that can be rented for $5 an hour.

Oceanside Pole produces over three million cases of vine-ripened tomatoes from 700 acres near Oceanside, picking each tomato plant 15 to 20 times with H-2A workers.

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