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California Bill Would Tackle Laborers' Working Conditions

Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics

Many California agricultural workers aren’t employed directly by farmers, but by labor contractors. Now a new bill in the California legislature would bring about more protections for those workers, but as FM89’s Kerry Klein reports, it’s also the source of controversy.


Assembly Bill 1897 aims to make businesses responsible for the working conditions of their subcontracted laborers—a responsibility usually held by the contracting companies themselves. If it becomes law, the bill would apply to any industry that hires temp workers and seasonal laborers, including agriculture.

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez says he introduced the bill to reduce problems like wage theft, poor working conditions, and finger-pointing when laborers try to complain.

Hernandez: "It’s important that we weed out these business models that exploit workers and that depend on all of California to subsidize bad treatment of workers."

But Christopher Valadez with the California Fresh Fruit Association says AB 1897 would make farmers and other employers too vulnerable by putting them on the hook for things they’re not necessarily responsible for.

Valadez: "The biggest issue is your legal exposure. First and foremost you’ve now created a shortcut to a joint liability test."

Valadez argues that it’s the contracting companies that should be held responsible, but Assemblyman Hernandez claims that those companies are not always the source of the problem.

Hernandez: "Some of the conditions that these workers are experiencing may be there at the site of the client employer, not at the site of the labor contractor."

The bill will soon be up for vote in the Senate.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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