July 1995, Volume 1, Number 3
Weeding California Fields
The short-handled hoe, known as el cortito, was banned in
California in 1975, the same year that the state enacted the
Agricultural Labor Relations Act that gave farm workers organizing
and collective bargaining rights. Workers were prohibited from using
short-handled hoes--those with handles less than four feet-- for
weeding and thinning crops because of the damage stooping causes to
workers' backs. At the time, farmers argued that workers closer to
the ground did more careful work, and some tried to get around the
ban by issuing workers short-handled knives, promoting a 1978 ban on
all short-handled tools.
However, the 1975 ban does not apply to hand weeding, and some
farmers are reportedly providing workers with no hoes when sending
them to fields. According to CRLA activists, some employers prefer to
have workers bending as they work in order to more easily determine
who is working.
The Department of Industrial Relation's Division of Occupational
Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) opposes the ban on hand weeding as an
unfunded mandate that would be difficult to enforce. Labor law
enforcers in the Targeted Industries Protection Program assert that
hand-weeding is not a serious problem.
In the California legislature, Senate Bill 587, which would ban
hand weeding, was approved in committee despite the opposition of
Farm Bureau and other farm organizations, who argued that in
nurseries, hand weeding is necessary.
CRLA, which brought the suit that led to the banning of the
short-handled hoe, is under threat of Congressional defunding.
California Rural Legal Assistance, an organization with 50 lawyers
around the state, gets 70 percent of its $7 million annual budget
from the Legal Services Corporation.
Fred Alvarez, "Farm Worker Advocates dig in against Hand Weeding,"
Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1995; Kerry Benson, "Hand Weeding ban
moves through Senate," Ag Alert, May 17, 1995.