October 2023, Volume 29, Number 4
California: Farm Employment
Fewer California crop employers are hiring workers directly. In 2000, average employment on California crop farms was 190,000 and average FLC employment was 105,000. By 2022, average employment on California crop farms was 160,000 and average FLC employment was 155,000.
Overall average employment in crop agriculture was stable at about 300,000, but the share of workers brought to farms rose from 35 to 50 percent. If current trends continue, more workers will soon be brought to California crop farms by FLCs than are hired directly.
California’s minimum wage will increase from $15.50 to $16 an hour January 1, 2024.
Employers pay a tax of one to five percent of each worker’s first $7,000 in earnings to cover the cost of unemployment insurance benefits. California’s UI fund owes $18 billion due to covid-era shutdowns and a liberalization of the rules for receiving benefits. SB 799, which would make workers who strike for less than two weeks eligible for UI benefits, was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom, citing the state’s UI debt.
SB 616 increased the required amount of paid six leave from three to five days. Employees accumulate one hour of paid sick leave credit for each hour worked, and employees must allow their employees to accrue up to 80 hours or 10 days.
California introduced a $4.5 million pilot program to provide free immigration assistance to farm workers involved in state labor investigations. Workers involved in cases with the Labor Commissioner’s Office, the Division of Occupational Safety, and Health or the Agricultural Labor Relations Board are eligible for state legal assistance.
Lodi-based Vino Farms, which manages 17,000 acres of vineyards with 350 full-time employees to generate over $80 million a year in revenue, paid back wages and CMPs in October 2022 to US workers in Sonoma County who alleged that they were not hired because Vino preferred H-2A workers.
In June 2023, Vino settled a PAGA class-action suit filed by Los Angeles-based Moon and Yang alleging that Vino failed to pay the minimum wage and overtime to its workers. After mediation in July 2022, Vino agreed to settle the case for $1.4 million in June 2023.
The settlement provides up to $600,000 to the attorneys and $800,000 or about $1,500 each to 537 workers who were employed between July 2021 and September 2022, including $500 for unpaid wages and $1,000 for penalties and interest. Moon and Yang, whose principals have a $795
hourly rate, has settled over 125 PAGA suits.
FLC Maria Guadalupe Luna of Parlier collected payments from growers Madera Persimmon Growers of Madera and Willems Farms of Kingsburg but did not pay 356 farm workers $1.9 million in wages, mostly for waiting time.
A federal court in September 2023 ordered Rancho Nuevo Harvesting of Santa Maria to pay $558,298 in back wages to 649 farmworkers and $475,211 in CMPs for violating H-2 regulations by, for instance, not paying for three-fourths of the contract period. Rancho Nuevo had similar violations in 2020 and 2022.
H-2A sheepherders in California earn $3,864 a month, but goat herders are subject to regular minimum wage laws. Employers of goat herders asked EDD to allow them to pay their H-2A goat herders the same $3,864 a month rather than the $15,925 a month that would be due because of 24/7 work schedules and overtime wages.
A 59-year-old Fresno-area farm worker died in August 2023. The coroner said that the cause of death was obstructed arteries, but the UFW blamed heat and called for federal heat-safety protections to bolster state efforts. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced a bill that would establish federal heat-safety standards.