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Castillo: A First for Farmworkers

  • State: California

Farmworkers in California received a big boost last week as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a package of bills creating new and expanded safety measures to protect agricultural workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Castillo

Michael Castillo

The first-in-the-nation package with measures designed specifically to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus contained two key pieces of legislation to complement previous formal requests for executive action by the governor.

Assembly Bill 2043, authored by Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), will fund a bilingual outreach campaign to educate farmworkers on safety measures and guidance by Cal/OSHA as well as COVID-19-related paid sick leave and workers’ compensation benefits.

The bill, passed with bipartisan support, also directs Cal/OSHA to track and report agricultural workplace investigations while ensuring enforcement of the agency’s COVID-19 guidance measures.  

Assembly Bill 2165, authored by Rivas and also passed with bipartisan support, expands the filing of electronic documents to all trial state courts to allow for greater access to courthouses, which has been cited as a problem for farmworkers and other rural communities.

The signing of the bills follows previous executive actions taken by Newsom to alleviate housing concerns and increase personal protective equipment and testing for agricultural workers. After formal requests were made for executive action in March and April, Newsom announced in July the “Housing for the Harvest” program to provide temporary isolated living spaces for sick or at-risk farmworkers, and also announced that his administration would be stepping up efforts to provide farmworkers with more PPE and testing for COVID-19.

“This is a major victory for California’s most vulnerable essential workers — farmworkers,” said Rivas in a press release. “I am grateful to the governor for his signature on AB 2043 and AB 2165, which will help protect agricultural communities against the spread of COVID-19 and ensure workers have access to critical workplace safety information and essential state services during this pandemic."

The release cited recent studies showing Monterey County farmworkers are three times as likely to contract COVID-19 compared to the general population, and that the Latinx community accounts for 93% of positive cases in the county while comprising 61% of the population.

Kudos to California lawmakers for leading the nation in providing protections for farmworkers, an essential part of our society before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Castillo is communications director for the California Applicants' Attorneys Association. This opinion is republished, with permission, from the CAAA website.

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