May 27, 2021

Ag Labor Legislative Update

The California Legislature is currently in peak season as the Assembly and Senate rush to complete consideration of bills that were introduced in their respective houses. As a general rule, bills have to move out of their house of origin by June 4th in order for them to survive and continue through the legislative process. WG is actively lobbying many of these bills that affect the environment, labor, and water. Two bills that we are heavily opposing are AB 616 and AB 857. Unfortunately, both of these bills have passed out of the Assembly and will soon be heard in the Senate Labor Committee. WG will continue advocating against these proposals.

AB 616 is being authored by Assembly Member Mark Stone. The bill is sponsored by the United Farm Workers and would undermine the secret ballot election process that lies at the heart of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. If AB 616 were to become law, farm employees will be essentially be stripped of their right to express their choice for union representation or not by a secret ballot election supervised by the ALRB. Union organizers will go to great lengths to influence farm employees in order to force a card check certification and avoid secret ballot elections in favor of the ballot card election process which is heavily weighted in favor of a union seeking representation rights. Finally, with AB 616’s harsh penalties against employers but not the unions, employers will be in perpetual legal defense mode at the ALRB.

AB 857 is being authored by Assembly Member Ash Kalra. The bill is sponsored by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. AB 857 is essentially a reintroduction of SB 1102 (Monning) which was vetoed by Governor Newsom last year largely due to its provisions on travel time. WG is opposed to AB 857 for the same reasons. AB 857 creates a new right on travel time being compensable that is contrary to long established judicial precedence.  The bill falsely states that it “is declaratory of existing law.” In reality, this bill attempts to change the law by expanding the definition of “voluntary” and “mandated” travel time, as decided by the California Supreme Court in Morillion v. Royal Packing (2000).  Therefore, AB 857 adds new situations whereby travel time would be required to be paid to H-2A employees.

Additionally, this bill goes well beyond existing court decisions by requiring that the travel time be paid at the regular rate of pay. This is not a notice of existing rights since current law requires that travel time pay be compensated at no less than the minimum wage, which for H-2A workers is $16.05 per hour in 2021.  For H-2A employees earning on a piece rate basis, the regular rate of pay could easily exceed $16.05 per hour – for voluntarily sitting on a bus.