Date: Oct 01, 2013
Magazine:
October 2013 -- Wellness Program: Company-wide Exercise Plan Reaps Benefits

The California Legislature closed down the first year of the 2013-14 session on September 12 with a flurry of activity between majority Democrats and Governor Brown that produced agreements on several major issues.  Agriculture-specific legislation, however, was not as prevalent as in most years.

In 2012, the ag industry faced a major double threat from bills repealing the industry’s 10-hour overtime standard and imposing unworkable heat illness rules enforced by private lawsuits.  The scene was much less dramatic this year, although one bill was signed into law that will hit farmers’ bottom lines and others that did not pass can be taken back up when lawmakers return in January.

Here are some of the major issues WG focused on in Sacramento in 2013:

 

Labor Unions

Having seen their card-check bills vetoed by governors of both parties, the United Farm Workers union (UFW) this year came back with yet another proposal seeking to further tilt the rules governing union elections and collective bargaining in agriculture.  Senate Bill 25 (Steinberg, D-Sacramento) would remove any motivation for the union to bargain in good faith.  Under SB 25, the union would only have to go through the motions of negotiation for 90 days and then demand “mandatory mediation,” which functions exactly like binding arbitration under a 2003 California law allowing unions to pursue this option in a first-contract situation.  Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg held the bill, which remains in position to reach the Governor next year with one final vote in the Senate.  The Governor’s position is not yet clear.

 

Other labor-related bills of note included:

•                                          SB 435 (Padilla, D-San Fernando), which would have imposed a costly mandate on piece-rate employers to pay the average piece-rate for all time, such as rest and meal periods.  Working with the industry, Sen. Padilla removed the piece-rate provisions and inserted provisions stating that employers may not force employees to work during heat illness recovery periods, just as the law prohibits forcing employees to work during meal and rest periods.

•                                          SB 168 (Monning, D-Carmel), which prohibits a farm labor contractor that has been shut down by the state from reopening under a relative’s name or as a clearly-defined successor.  Monning worked closely with WG and other industry representatives to incorporate amendments that reduce the possibility that a reputable contractor would be liable as a successor. 

•                                          AB 10 (Alejo, D-Watsonville), which increases the state minimum wage to $9 per hour on July 1, 2014 and then to $10 per hour on January 1, 2016.  Earlier versions included an inflation index that would put future increases on autopilot.  While the inflation index was removed, WG and virtually every other business organization opposed this bill.  However, Governor Brown pledged to sign it into law.

•                                          AB 880 (Gomez, D-Los Angeles), which would have forced large employers to pay the state a penalty for every employee who chooses to access Medi-Cal rather than employer-offered health benefits, this bill was defeated in the Assembly.

 

Water Quality

The nitrate in groundwater issue matured in the Legislature, with a batch of bills introduced on the topic.  A tax on fertilizer, AB 69 (Perea, D-Fresno), was one of the few to fail and the only one opposed by WG.  Other nitrate-related bills focused on streamlining red tape for communities accessing clean drinking water solutions, and these were mostly approved with the support of WG and other ag groups; however, we expect the fertilizer tax issue to return next year.

 

Immigration

California legislators passed a number of immigration-related measures, many with bipartisan votes.  Chief among these was AB 60 (Alejo), which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a California drivers license.  Governor Brown weighed in during the closing days of the session with an amendment that requires these licenses to include the words “driving privilege,” rather than “drivers license,” in order to satisfy federal requirements.  In addition, the new document will state that it is not to be used for employment verification.

 

Environmental Issues

WG-backed legislation extending the sunset date for a car registration fee that funds the popular Carl Moyer Program (which farmers use to offset up to half the cost of replacement diesel engines) was passed with the support of Gov. Brown.  AB 8 (Perea) required a two-thirds vote for passage and succeeded with votes from several Republicans who joined the majority Democrats in recognition of this important program.  Other major environmental bills included AB 1330 (Speaker John Pèrez, D-Los Angeles), which would have doubled fines for air quality violations against businesses (including farms) in areas identified by a state environmental justice database.  WG joined others opposing this concept and the bill was held over to next year.

 

Water Supply

Members in both houses began crafting new water bond proposals to replace the existing water bond, which is set for the November, 2014 ballot.  While it is clear that a smaller bond is needed to earn the voters’ support next year, much discussion remains to be had as to how to reduce the proposed investment.  Governor Brown’s input is most critical.  WG will continue to be closely involved in the process.

WG Staff Contact

Dave Puglia
President & CEO

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