CIRS Blog about Rural California

 — California lawmakers’ failure to pass water legislation this Congress raises questions about strategy, tactics and the ability to learn from falling short.

It also sets the stage for next year when – wait for it – the whole anti-drought drama returns for an encore.

On Thursday night, the House concluded its work for the 113th Congress by approving a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that funds federal government agencies for nine months. The must-pass bill does not include the California water language sought by some lawmakers and opposed by others.

“The lesson,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., “is that there is still a sharp rivalry between the different regions of California.”

Costa, House Republicans and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California had been seeking last-minute legislative language they could add to the 1,603-page omnibus bill. Among themselves, they seemed Dec. 7 to have a deal that could boost water exports to farms and other users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“If they miss this opportunity,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said of the Senate on Wednesday, “we’ll be hurt even further in the next year.”

Among Northern California Democrats, though, the latest language still sounded like a water grab hatched in secret. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California would not relent, and she worked with Senate Democratic leaders to keep the 20-plus pages of negotiated language off the omnibus.

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 — A new California water bill slated to hit the House floor this week would boost irrigation deliveries to farms south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, nudge along planning for new dams and capture more storm runoff for human use.

It would not authorize dam construction, repeal an ambitious San Joaquin River restoration plan or last longer than the state’s current drought.

And whether it survives or dies will almost certainly be up to the Senate, where California’s two Democrats are feeling the heat from every corner.

“I have carefully studied the Republican water bill and I am dismayed that this measure could reignite the water wars by overriding critical state and federal protections for California,” Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said late Wednesday.

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Sick Leave

SB 1522, the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, was signed into law in September 2014. SB 1522 requires employers to give employees at least three sick days a year and will cover 6.5 million private and public sector employees in California beginning July 1, 2015. Employees accrue paid sick days at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, so that a full-time worker employed 40 hours a week would accrue 8.6 days of paid sick leave a year.

Employees who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement accrue three days of paid sick leave after being employed for 90 days to use to care for themselves or a family member such as a child, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild or sibling.

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Bent Backs and Cheap Food
I grew a garden this year. I harvested pumpkins, summer squash, peppers, a few tomatoes, green, purple and yellow beans and melons.

 

My garden is pretty small but just to get these few fruits and vegetables, was back breaking. Keeping out the weeds—that was my least favorite and most time intensive job. My back and legs would be sore from bending over for less than a half a day. It made me think more than I usually do about the labor that goes into “our daily bread.” (I actually can’t even fathom the work that goes into a loaf of bread—from the decisions of which seed to buy and onward to planting, cultivating, harvesting, threshing, winnowing and milling—and that’s just for the flour. Getting to the bread takes even more thought, effort and skill.)

 

As I pulled out the exhausted vines from my summer garden and dreamed of my winter garden, I suddenly stopped and thought about all of those who work in the food chain to provision our Thanksgiving tables but who may not be feasting on this national day of celebration.

 

This led to my thinking about the word “chain” as it is used in “food chain.” It can symbolize both the linkages from farm to face and the bondage to poverty many of those who work in this industry live with.

 

Workers in our food chain are the poorest members of our society. According to The Hands that Feed Us, only 13.5% of workers in the food industry earn a livable wage. “More than 86 percent of workers reported earning subminimum, poverty, and low wages, resulting in a sad irony: food workers face higher levels of food insecurity, or the inability to afford to eat, than the rest of the U.S. workforce.”

 

 Arvin weeder David Bacon

Photo by David Bacon

 

Food workers are unable to afford food.

 

I know the data. CIRS has done two studies on farmworker food insecurity and we are beginning a third. Whenever I state the fact that many farmworkers go without food so that they can pay rent or medical costs, people simply can’t understand this.

 

IN FRESNO, 45% OF THE FARMWORKERS WE INTERVIEWED WERE FOOD INSECURE
AND IN SALINAS 66%.

 

The hard work that goes into growing food results in poverty for those who expend their energy in that task. We have created a system that only works if we agree that some of the workers in that system are treated unfairly. We have agreed that, because we want cheap food, there will forever be an underclass of workers who cannot even afford that cheap food we demand.

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Usually on Thanksgiving week, CIRS issues a statement about thanking workers in the fields for producing food for our tables when they may not be able to eat these foods themselves. This year, we would like to promote a national concerted effort to turn the focus on food workers all across the food chain.

 

November 23-29, is the third annual International Food Workers Week, conceived by the Food Chain Workers Alliance. This is a week of events and actions designed to educate consumers about the many challenges facing food system workers from farm to fork—workers who participate in and shape the national food system. The focus of this year’s International Food Worker Week is on the individual Food Worker Heroes whom we depend on for our food every day.

 

3annualFWW POSTER web

 

High poverty and food insecurity rates among farm workers and food industry workers underscore the dire need to reevaluate and reform how food chain workers are treated and how they are compensated for their essential services to communities. These problems persist in California’s agricultural communities and across the nation. CIRS has published two studies on farmworker food insecurity in Fresno County and Salinas and is currently working on a third in Yolo County. Ironically, farmworkers growing food for our holiday feasts experience a much higher rate of food insecurity and hunger than the general population. The poverty rate for farm worker families is more than twice the poverty rate of all wage and salary employees combined, and far higher than that of any other occupation. Likewise, restaurant servers have three times the poverty rate and use food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the workforce. 

 

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