Gov. Brown denies farm workers the tools to protect themselves from heat-related death October 1, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
Tags: agribusiness, agriculture, California, farm workers, jerry brown, labor, labour, ufw, workers rights
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On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown rejected The Humane Treatment for Farm Workers Act – authored by Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) – that would make it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by jail time and fines, to not provide appropriate water or shade to workers laboring under high heat conditions. The governor also vetoed AB 2346 – The Farm Worker Safety Act – by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Los Angeles). It would have allowed workers to enforce the state’s heat regulations by suing employers who repeatedly violate the law. The United Farm Workers strongly supported both bills. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez issued the following statement:
“The UFW is appalled at the governor’s decision to deny farm workers the basic legal tools to protect themselves from employers who intentionally put their lives at risk by refusing to provide them with adequate water and shade despite the dangerously high temperatures. By vetoing AB 2676, the governor continues the policy of giving animals more protections than those currently offered to farm workers.
Since California issued regulations in 2005 to keep farm workers from dying of extreme heat, preventable farm worker deaths have continued. State regulators are investigating two possible heat-related farm worker deaths that occurred this summer. There are over 81,500 farms and more than 450,000 farm workers working under a corrupt farm labor contractor system. It’s time the government admits that without adequate enforcement, regulations are ineffective. We are weighing our legal and other options to determine how we better provide the protections farm workers deserve as human beings.”
Tags: agribusiness, agriculture, betsy butler, cesar chavez, farm workers, farmworker deaths, farmworker safety, farmworker wages, farmworkers, jerry brown, labor, labor conditons, labour, roger hollander, ufw
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According to Assemblymember Betsy Butler, D-Los Angeles, author of the Farmworker Safety Act of 2012, “At least 16 farm workers have died since the state issued emergency regulations related to heat illness in 2005. Since all of the deaths were preventable, it’s clear that the regulations and their enforcement are ineffective.”
Let’s replay that: every year farmworkers are dying from thirst and heat exposure due to inadequate water and shade.
In announcing AB 2346, Butler added: “It is absolutely abhorrent to think that in this day and age, farm workers are not regularly provided with shade and water. These two commodities are essentially free and we all know that no grower would let their crops go without water.”
To rally support, the United Farm Workers union and other advocates will gather in Sacramento this weekend and laborers will speak of toiling thirsty and overheated in the fields.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but history shows a long, sorry resistance to treating farmworkers with even the most basic dignities. In July 2010, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to give farmworkers overtime pay after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week (New York passed such a bill in 2009). This February, after lobbying from Kraft Foods, the American Meat Institute and others, the USDA withdrew a proposed rule requiring companies doing business with the agency to prove that their subcontractors–including growers–are complying with labor laws.
Can you imagine any other profession where such injustices would be allowed? We hear of the sweatshops behind our computers, sneakers and other attire–yet the exploitation of farmworkers has become normalized. Somehow food, so intrinsic to our daily lives, escapes the kind of justice we should take for granted in 2012.
Our ongoing “harvest of shame” is about more than water and shade. It is about toxic pesticide exposures that send farmworkers to the hospital–up to 20,000 are poisoned annually according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is about rock-bottom wages for back-breaking work: more than 60 percent of farmworkers live south of the poverty line. “Hired farmworkers continue to be one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in the United States,” the USDA says, noting, “they are sometimes forced to sleep in their vehicles, in tents, or completely outdoors.”
Farmworkers receive just half the average hourly wage of other private-sector workers, yet their pay represents up to 40 percent of food production costs for “crops such as fruits, vegetables, and nursery products,” according to the USDA.
The dirty big secret of our food is that highly exploited labor is a major cost (particularly in organic farming), and even well-meaning growers fight to keep their costs down. If food prices get too high, consumers howl for price relief. Something has to give.
This Cesar Chavez Day, let’s renew a national conversation about justice and fairness for America’s roughly one million farmworkers. Here’s a start: in the 2012 Farm Bill coming before Congress this summer, let’s create an income and health support fund for farmworkers–and a Farmworkers’ Bill of Rights. Currently, taxpayers subsidize agribusiness to the tune of roughly $15 billion a year–most of it benefiting large-scale production of additives for fast food and fuels that deplete our health and the environment. Let’s redirect some of that money to prevent severe farmworker poverty, chronic disease and premature deaths.
Why spend taxpayer dollars to make sure farmworkers get basic justice? We’re already paying the bill every day for uninsured farm laborers who end up in emergency rooms due to acute and chronic pesticide exposures or heat exhaustion; and we’re already paying the bill for impoverished underpaid farmworkers who need welfare and other supports just to survive. We can pay now to prevent farmworker suffering, or pay later for the inevitable health and economic emergencies.
Farmworkers are often undocumented and vulnerable–but not powerless. They’ve won some impressive battles recently, with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers extracting better pay from Taco Bell and Trader Joe’s. Like Cesar Chavez’ great boycotts of the early 1970s, these campaigns organized farmworkers and consumers in common cause.
It’s time for consumers and policymakers to demand an end to the sweatshops hiding behind our dinner plates. It’s not just one company or a few bad apple growers–it’s our whole economy and policy of “cheap food,” which has cost many farmworkers an arm and a leg.
Tags: agriculture, California, california government, cesar chavez, darrel steinberg, edgar sanchez, farm workers, jerry brown, labor, labor relations, labour, roger hollander, ufw, union rights, unions, workers rights
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By Edgar Sanchez
SACRAMENTO – California’s farm workers would be able to vote without fear for union representation under a historic bill approved Monday by the State Assembly after lengthy debate.
SB 104 – the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act – passed by a 51-to-25 party-line vote, prompting applause from 160 farm laborers packing the Assembly Gallery. Another 100-plus farm workers and their supporters watched the debate on television, in a legislative hearing room.
The bill, previously passed by the Senate, now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown to become law.
The measure, granting farm workers the same organizing rights enjoyed by all state employees, is strongly opposed by the state’s $36 billion agricultural industry.
Introduced by Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), SB 104 would give the state’s more than 400,000 farm workers an alternative to on-the-job polling place elections to decide whether to join a union. The new option would allow them to fill out state-issued representation ballots in their homes, away from bosses’ threats and other interference. If a simple majority – more than 50 percent — of workers sign the ballots, their jobs would be unionized.
All elections would be supervised by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with the workers choosing the process.
In a bid to derail SB 104, opponents in the Assembly described it as a job killer, “an anti-democracy bill” and a tool to “blatantly stack the deck against employers.”
Supporters called it a long-overdue proposal to end years of abuse by some unscrupulous labor contractors and growers fighting the United Farm Workers Union.
“This is a great victory for us,” Felipe, a 30-year-old farm worker from Kern County, said after the vote. “There won’t be any more intimidation on the part of contractors or farm bosses when union elections take place.
“There won’t be because if 104 becomes law, the vote could be in your house, without anybody pressuring you,” he said.
Felipe – not his real name — requested anonymity because he fears reprisals from his employer, who he said intimidated workers into voting against unionization in 2006.
“Before the election, we were told we would lose our jobs if we voted for the union,” the $8-an-hour laborer said. “I came to Sacramento today without my bosses’ knowledge. They don’t know that I came here.”
The Assembly passed SB 104 on the third anniversary of the heat-related death of Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, who had collapsed on a vineyard east of Stockton. The pregnant laborer fainted after being denied proper access to water and shade in nearly 100-degree heat.
In all, 16 farm workers have died in the California heat since 2005, Luis A. Alejo (D-Watsonville), SB 104’s principal co-author, stated on the Assembly floor.
He cited two main reasons for the ongoing deaths: Employers, including Maria Isavel’s, intentionally disregard heat regulations and the state seldom enforces the laws.
Even the justice system failed Maria Isavel, Alejo said, expressing disbelief that no one went to prison after she was “killed.”
“Those responsible for her death were ‘sentenced’ to community service,” despite prior worker-safety law violations, he said. “Community service? For manslaughter? I don’t need to be an attorney to know that that is a disservice to our justice system.”
Noting that Maria Isavel’s uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, was in the Assembly Gallery, Alejo urged colleagues to “consider telling him that we will not let Maria Isavel’s death be for nothing … but, not with our words. But, with our actions today.”
Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), said that when Maria Isavel died, “her body temperature was over 108 degrees.”
“Members, can you believe that only six years ago there were no standards for working in the heat in California?” she said. “…Today, we have an opportunity to take another step on the long, tortuous path for civil rights in the farm worker community.
“I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote” on SB 104, she said.
Asking for a “No” vote was Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.
“I rise in opposition to this bill, even though I support the cause of protecting the farm workers in the field,” he said. “Right now, we tolerate a system where (they) are systematically abused. They are exploited …
“SB 104 does nothing to protect farm workers,” he said.
Also blasting SB 104 was Bill Berryhill (R-Ceres), a longtime farmer who said that, if enacted, 104 would “get rid” of secret-ballot elections on ranches.
The bill runs counter to what Cesar Chavez fought for, Berryhill said, reminding that the UFW’s co-founder campaigned for farm workers’ right to choose a union through secret ballots.
William W. Monning (D-Carmel), responded to Donnelly’s and Berryhill’s remarks.
“Mr. Berryhill is right,” Monning said. “The philosophy of Cesar Chavez, (fellow UFW co-founder) Dolores Huerta and the union was to achieve secret-ballot protection for farm workers.”
That milestone came in 1975 when then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act into law, he said.
Monning, a distinguished lawyer and former law professor, told colleagues he knows how the Act evolved. In the mid-1970s, he worked in the UFW’s Legal Department as it lobbied legislators for the Act’s passage.
But, Monning said, “under the current rules … once a petition for election is filed it sets in motion a wave of disparate power – the power of the labor contractor, the power of growers to maximize threats, intimidation, closed company meetings (to) dissuade workers” from voting for union representation, “even in the privacy of that secret ballot.”
“So now, by the time we get to election day, the election’s already been determined,” he said. “So we need to amend this law to level the playing field, to allow workers in the privacy of their homes, labor camps, to sign a card authorizing union representation” for themselves.
Then, in what appeared to be a direct rebuke to Donnelly, Monning denounced “those colleagues who say they oppose this bill because they care about farm worker rights.”
He continued: “When I look to an authority on farm worker rights, I look to farm workers. And farm workers are here today, here at their own expense, many missing a day of work asking us to give them the tools to end the exploitation of unscrupulous labor contractors who intimidate, bend the rules and violate the rights.
“Members, the legacy of Cesar Chavez is embedded in this legislation. I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote.”
The farm workers applauded enthusiastically.
Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, accused opponents of distorting the facts.
SB 104, he said, “does not eliminate the secret ballot. It simply adds card check … as another option for farm workers to choose collective bargaining.”
Sandré R. Swanson, D-Oakland, said SB 104 would make it easier for farm workers to organize and demand basic rights that other workers in California already have.
“We’re talking about the right for farm workers not to have to die of heat stroke, to have adequate water, available restrooms and decent pay,” he said. “That is fundamental to the opportunity to work in this state.”
After arriving in California’s capital from across the state, the farm workers had assembled at mid-morning in the basement of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, where they were welcomed by, among others, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, several assembly members and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.
“You are pilgrims seeking a better way of life,” Soto told the gathering. “You deserve human benefits. And you are not alone in your struggle. Many people support you.”
Rodriguez said simply: “Today, we’ll be witnesses to history.”
With that, the farm laborers began a silent pilgrimage to the Capitol, a couple of blocks away.
After the vote, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Alejo and other members of the Legislature addressed a cheering UFW crowd in the Capitol basement. The speakers vowed to do what needs to be done to ensure that Governor Brown signs SB 104.
Edgar Sanchez is a former writer for The Sacramento Bee and The Palm Beach Post
Happy Birthday, Cesar Chavez! March 31, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Human Rights, Labor.
Tags: agriculture labor relations, agriculture union, beyond the fields, california agriculture, california labor, cesar chavez, david swanson, economic justice, farm workers, farm workers union, farmworkers union, grape boycott, jerry brown, labor, labor boycott, labor leader, labor rights, mexican-american, randy shaw, roger hollander, ufw, united farm workers, worker rights
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www.opednews.com, March 31, 2009
No, he’s NOT the president of Venezuela.
Yes, he was the man who popularized the slogan “Yes, we can!” Only he said “Si’ se puede!”
Cesar Chavez, American young people should know, was an American who 40 years ago was inspiring young people to work long, hard hours for social justice. And not only did they do so in great numbers, but they actually achieved social justice, they won victories that kept them going. And many of them are going still, having made long, enjoyable, and effective careers of it.
Chavez organized the United Farm Workers, vastly improving the working conditions of farm workers in California and around the country. The UFW pioneered numerous tactics that have been used with great success ever since, including most famously the boycott. Half the country stopped eating grapes until the people who picked the grapes were allowed to form a union.
Now much of what we eat and otherwise consume is made by slave labor, sweatshop labor, and workers without rights or their basic needs met. Many of these products are shipped to us from distant lands. Some are produced in the United States, including California, where farm workers’ power is not what it was.
But the people the UFW trained have taken their skills “Beyond the Fields,” which is the title of a wonderful new book by Randy Shaw that chronicles the long-term effects of the UFW’s successes. Techniques mastered by the UFW have been employed with great success beyond the fields, including the technique of targeting a corporation or politician from numerous angles at once. In addition to boycotts, the UFW pioneered the use of fasting, the framing of workers’ issues in moral terms, actions aimed at gaining media attention, creating media with human billboards and other street theater, encouraging civic participation among union members, coalition building, and voter outreach and election day activities that have proved consistently powerful and effective.
UFW veterans have used these techniques to elect better politicians, to reform numerous corporations, to win union contracts and better conditions for janitors, to build a movement for immigrants rights, and to advance an endless list of social causes. When I worked for ACORN, what I saw ACORN’s organizers and members doing was straight out of the UFW. In fact, reading Chavez’ writings was mandatory. A campaign like the one I wrote about here that won a half a billion dollars from a predatory bank for its victims was pure UFW, even if those working on it were a degree of separation or two removed from Cesar Chavez. “If there were a post-World War II Hall of Fame for activists in America, UFW veterans would dominate the inductees,” writes Shaw.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been failures and improvements, set backs and new innovations, and good techniques put to questionable ends. But, on the whole, the approach of the UFW is one we would clearly benefit from following more closely. We should focus on training and education. We should build activist organizations that inspire young people to join and sacrifice. That means taking principled moral positions and fighting for them. And it means delegating responsibility to young people and training them above all to train others. And it means taking risks.
The cry of “si’ se puede!” comes out of a 1972 campaign to recall the governor of Arizona who had just signed an anti-labor bill. In four and a half months, the UFW registered almost 100,000 new voters, most of them poor Navajos and Mexican Americans. While the attorney general blocked the recall, four Mexican Americans and two Navajos were elected to the state legislature, and Mexican Americans were elected to local councils, judgeships, and school boards, and two years later to the office of governor. In the process, the UFW showed others how to alter politics by organizing volunteers to sign up new voters.
But the UFW didn’t just register voters who could be counted on to vote for the lesser of two lousy candidates. The UFW backed candidates and got them elected while simultaneously forcing them to comply with farm workers’ demands. This is the lesson that we’ve lost today, as we put massive efforts into electing candidates while making no demands of them. In 1974 the UFW was critical to the success of Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor of California, and had high hopes that he would sign a bill friendly to farm labor once elected. But the UFW did more than hope, it got a similar bill introduced and forced Brown to publicly express his support for it. This required a sit-in in a campaign office staffed by friends and colleagues. Once Brown was governor, Chavez had to threaten a massive march to the capitol. The first Agricultural Labor Relations Act in the country was signed into law in June 1975, and UFW staff went on to coordinate Brown’s presidential campaigns. They had earned his respect, something progressives today do not get from politicians by giving everything they have and never insisting on anything in return.
If Cesar Chavez were alive, he would be sitting in the office of a senator who is refusing to back the Employee Free Choice Act, he would be fasting, he would be refusing to leave, and he would be telling you Si Se Puede!
David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press and of the introduction to “The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for Prosecuting George W.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown Urges Repeal of Proposition 8 December 20, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, U.S. Election 2008.
Tags: anti-gay bigotry, California, constitution, gay marriage, gay rights, human rights, jerry brown, kenneth starr, lesbian rights, lisa leff, Prop 8, proposition 8, roger hollander
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Lisa Leff, AP, December 19, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO — The California attorney general has changed his position on the state’s new same-sex marriage ban and is now urging the state Supreme Court to void Proposition 8.
In a dramatic reversal, Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a legal brief saying the measure that amended the California Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman is itself unconstitutional because it deprives a minority group of a fundamental right. Earlier, Brown had said he would defend the ballot measure against legal challenges from gay marriage supporters.
But Brown said he reached a different conclusion “upon further reflection and a deeper probing into all the aspects of our Constitution.
“It became evident that the Article 1 provision guaranteeing basic liberty, which includes the right to marry, took precedence over the initiative,” he said in an interview Friday night. “Based on my duty to defend the law and the entire Constitution, I concluded the court should protect the right to marry even in the face of the 52 percent vote.”
Brown, who served as governor from 1975 to 1983, is considering seeking the office again in 2010. After California voters passed Proposition 8 on Nov. 4, Brown said he personally voted against it but would fight to uphold it as the state’s top lawyer.
He submitted his brief in one of the three legal challenges to Proposition 8 brought by same-sex marriage supporters. The measure, a constitutional amendment that passed with 52 percent of the vote, overruled the state Supreme Court decision last spring that briefly legalized gay marriage in the nation’s most populous state.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the attorney general’s change of strategy “a major development.”
“The fact that after looking at this he shifted his position and is really bucking convention by not defending Prop. 8 signals very clearly that this proposition can not be defended,” Minter said.
The sponsors of Proposition 8 argued for the first time Friday that the court should undo the marriages of the estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who exchanged vows before voters banned gay marriage at the ballot box last month.
The Yes on 8 campaign filed a brief telling the court that because the new law holds that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized or valid in California, the state can no longer recognize the existing same-sex unions.
“Proposition 8′s brevity is matched by its clarity. There are no conditional clauses, exceptions, exemptions or exclusions,” reads the brief co-written by Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine University’s law school and a former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.
Both Brown and gay rights groups maintain that the gay marriage ban may not be applied retroactively.
The state Supreme Court could hear arguments in the litigation in March. The measure’s backers announced Friday that Starr had signed on as their lead counsel and would argue the cases.