CIRS Blog about Rural California

Beginning July 1, 2015, all California employers must give their employees three paid sick days a year or allow them to accumulate paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Many employers plan to grant employees three days of sick leave at the beginning of each year.

 

Cal/OSHA tightened its heat-safety regulations effective May 1, 2015 to require "fresh, pure, and suitably cool" water to be located as close as practicable to workers. Employers must provide shade for all workers when the temperature tops 80 degrees, down from 85, and must monitor workers for signs of heat stress when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.

 

All outdoor workers must be trained in a language they understand about the dangers of heat illness.

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Processing

Farm commodities are often packed and processed by nonfarm workers in nearby plants. For example, Taylor Farms is a major producer of bagged salads, with sales exceeding $1.8 billion a year. Taylor's Salinas bagged salad plant has 2,500 employees who are represented by the Teamsters union, but its 900-employee Tracy salad plant is non-union.

The ballots in a March 2014 election at the Tracy plant were impounded by the National Labor Relations Board because the Teamsters alleged Taylor unlawfully interfered. The Teamsters argue that, because the 600 workers brought to the Tracy plant by temp agencies SlingShot and Abel Mendoza earn $0.50 an hour less than Taylor's Salinas workers, Tracy workers need a contract. The Teamsters say that Taylor intimidated its employees, some of whom are unauthorized, by threatening to introduce E-Verify to check the legal status of employees, and that the E-Verify threat makes workers reluctant to support the Teamsters.

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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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