California's minimum wage rose from $9 to $10 an hour January 1, 2016.

AB 20, which would have required the state to initiate discussions with the federal government to seek a waiver that would allow the state's Employment Development Department to issue work permits to unauthorized farm workers if there are not enough U.S. workers to fill available jobs, stalled in the Legislature in 2015 and was not approved. Under AB 20, the immediate family members of workers with permits could have received permits to reside legally in California.

Kansas, Utah and Colorado tried to create similar state-facilitated guest worker programs, but the federal government did not grant required waivers, so these states wound up with state-run programs to help farm employers to apply for guest workers under the H-2A program.

Piece Rates

AB 1513, effective January 1, 2016, deals with two 2013 California appellate court decisions, Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors and Bluford v. Safeway Stores. Gonzalez held that workers who are paid piece-rate wages must be paid at least the minimum wage when not doing piece rate work, while Bluford held that piece-rate employees must be paid for rest periods required by law.

Most piece-rate workers earn more than the minimum wage, and many employers did not pay them for waiting and rest time.

AB 1513 requires that piece-rate employees be compensated for rest periods at their average piece rate earnings or the minimum wage, whichever is higher. Waiting and standby time must be compensated at the minimum wage. Employers can shield themselves from back-wage claims by paying piece-rate workers four percent of their gross earnings from July 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015 to cover any past underpayments for rest periods and waiting time.

SB 588 allows the state's Labor Commissioner beginning in 2016 to file a lien or levy against an employer who fails to pay wages owed under a final court judgment. AB 622 prohibits employers from using E-Verify for purposes beyond those required by law beginning in 2016.


California will begin to regulate marijuana production with a seed-to-sale system monitored by CDFA. The new system is three tiered, with growers selling to distributors who sell to retailers, similar to the alcohol sales system. Under the new system, marijuana growers will have to abide by state laws governing the farm workers they hire.

The marijuana harvest peaks in October and November in northern California, drawing up to 100,000 so called immigrants or foreign-born workers to Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the "the land of buds and honey." Trimmers earn $100 to $200 per pound of finished product by snipping the unwanted leaves from the resin-rich cannabis buds, which contain most of the plant's medicinal and intoxication values. Most workers trim one to two pounds a day. There are mechanical trimmers as well.

There are no official estimates of the size of the marijuana industry in California, but some believe that the retail value of the marijuana produced in the state is over $15 billion, with half grown in northern California.

This post was an excerpt of the most recent Rural Migration News published in January 2016.


Rural Migration News summarizes the most important migration-related issues affecting agriculture and rural America. Topics are grouped by category: Rural America, Farm Workers, Immigration, Other and Resources.


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