A bill in the Assembly proposes to grant additional benefits and COVID-19 coronavirus protections for farmworkers across California.
Under an amended Assembly Bill 2915, authored by Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) farmworkers will have mandatory paid sick leave days increased from 3 days to 2 weeks, receive hazard pay for working in pandemic conditions, and increase subsidies to reduce healthcare and childcare costs. AB 2915 would also expand coronavirus precautions by providing temporary housing to provide adequate social distancing, increased state and OSHA guidance on coronavirus protections, giving face masks and other protective supplies, and overall increased safety measures.
Supporters such as Assemblyman Rivas, Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), farmworkers, various labor unions, and others have noted that the bill will not only protect farmworkers, but say it will also avoid any food supply disruptions in California
“California’s farmworkers play a critical role in our state’s $50 billion agriculture industry, and in our nation’s food supply,” said Assemblyman Rivas in a press release. “Governor Newsom has rightly designated agricultural workers as an essential infrastructure workforce. But as we ask our farmworkers to continue working through the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take action to protect their health, safety, and economic security. Protecting farmworkers is not just our moral duty, it is also critical for preventing disruptions to our food supply.”
Assemblyman Garcia added in the same press release that “Protecting our farmworkers is especially important as they step up to the plate, placing themselves at risk, to feed our families and keep our food supply intact during this challenging time.”
No opposition to AB 2915 has been formed yet, but many food companies and distributors have given hints that they would not like to see the bill passed, at least not in its present form.
“When the bill reaches the Assembly, a lot of lobbyists will be pulling against it and trying to get it amended,” noted agriculture transportation consultant Esteban Fox. “After COVID-19, fighting against any protections for workers, especially if the end result is being bought by people worried about COVID-19 spread, is a no go. Masks and gloves and other equipment would be welcome by everyone, especially if California is providing everything.”
“The sticking points will be paid sick days, higher pay, and anything healthcare related where the employer pays. And the bill has plenty of that. Workers will get masks, but everything else is going to be fought for.”
“If they come back to consumers and mention food prices going up over this, it could endanger the entire bill. In fact, all of these bills. So they’ll work on it. What you see now will not be the final bill.”
AB 2915 is only one of 5 bills in a “California Farmworker COVID-19 Relief Package” proposed by Rivas, with other bills in the package extending healthcare, tax credit, and housing benefits for workers. However, AB 2915 is considered the centerpiece bill.
All five bills are set to be introduced to the Assembly when the session is started back up in May.
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