Assemblymember Kalra Introduces Bill to Notify H-2A Farm Workers of Employment Rights
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
SACRAMENTO – California Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) today introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 857, ensuring that farm workers on the federal temporary agricultural workers program (H-2A visa) receive a comprehensive Spanish-language notice of their basic employment rights. The bill requires California agricultural growers and farm labor contractors using the H-2A visa program to provide these workers with the notice, which shall be available in English as well, of their substantial legal rights and protections under California law on their first day of work or when they are transferred to another H-2A employer.
“H-2A farm workers are among the most exploited of agricultural workers,” said Assemblymember Kalra, who is also the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment. “Last year, more than 25,000 H-2A farm workers who are vital to maintaining and securing our food supply were imported under contract to California, and many of them entered the country under job offers that listed false or misleading statements about our laws.”
The bill’s sponsor, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF), stated that a very large percentage of these job offers contained inaccurate, false, or misleading statements.
“None of the state or federal enforcement agencies that oversee this program require growers or farm labor contractors to disclose to workers the more than two dozen California labor, housing, worker health and safety, insurance, or other laws that offer greater protections than those offered under the federal H-2A visa entry program,” said CRLAF in a statement.
Of the 298 H-2A job orders that have been approved or were pending in California between Jan. 1, 2020 and July 1, 2020, 135 of these job orders stated that residing in employer-provided housing “creates no tenancy,” although clear statutes and case law establish H-2A farm workers as tenants who have all of the rights of other tenants, including the right to receive guests of their choosing. Similarly, 174 contained statements that employer transportation of H-2A farm workers to their worksites was “voluntary”—suggesting it is not compensable travel time, despite the fact that longstanding California case law contradicts such statements.
“Understanding legal rights is fundamental to vindicating those rights when they are violated. California can easily extend a meaningful notice of workplace rights to these vulnerable H-2A contract workers by passing this bill,” added Assemblymember Kalra.
CRLAF, along with other statewide rural legal services programs, has represented thousands of H-2A workers in recent wage theft cases, and helped recover several millions of dollars in wages and penalties for workers.
Although federal laws are supposed to ensure decent working conditions, fair pay, and safe housing for guest workers, H2-A farm workers have been subjected to continued abuse and exploitation.
Confirmed H-2A violations have increased by 150 percent since 2014, with approximately 12,000 violations under the program, including thousands of cases of workers being cheated out of their wages. Additionally, the pandemic has created new hazards for these workers, who are transported together and often stay in cramped housing that their employers provide. COVID-19 outbreaks have infected farm workers across the country, including large groups of H-2A workers in California.
AB 857 is coauthored by Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles).
Assemblymember Ash Kalra was first elected to the California Legislature in 2016, representing the 27th District, which encompasses approximately half of San Jose and includes all of downtown. He is the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment and also serves as a member on the Housing and Community Development, Judiciary, Transportation, and Water, Parks, and Wildlife committees. For more information, visit https://a27.asmdc.org/.  United States, Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. (n.d.). Agriculture. Retrieved February 11, 2021, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/data/charts/agriculture