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Organizing in farmworker communities for many years, CAUSE has long heard the stories of labor abuses in the fields, from extreme overwork to wage theft, to health and safety risks.
In 2015, we conducted a survey of nearly 600 farmworkers throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties detailing these conditions. 7 in 10 farmworkers said their working conditions were dangerous or harmful to their health. 42% said they never take time off work for any reason. One in three farmworkers in Santa Barbara County and 3 in 5 farmworkers in Ventura County said they’ve experienced at least one form of wage theft.
As a movement sweeps the nation to improve conditions for low-wage workers through grassroots local community efforts, CAUSE is building the movement in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties through an alliance of local labor, community, faith and student organizations for a Farmworker Bill of Rights.
Labor enforcement in our fields by state agencies is deeply inadequate, as their presence is concentrated in urban areas and squeezed state budgets have severely limited their resources. The immigrant and indigenous farmworkers of rural California face huge barriers to reporting labor violations due to language, education, immigration status, transportation, and fear of retaliation. A culture of fear among agricultural workers means that the laws on the books are not the laws in the fields. Read our report on the gaps in labor enforcement for farmworkers here.
Local governments in agricultural communities have a responsibility to step up and partner with the state to improve working conditions faced by our residents. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, we see effective partnerships between local labor investigators and community outreach programs and state enforcement agencies that have dramatically improved conditions for low-wage workers. Here in rural communities where our need is even greater, we need our county governments to devote resources to ensuring the rights of farmworkers are protected.
CAUSE community leaders have surveyed of hundreds of farmworkers, mobilized hundreds of farmworkers and allies to public forums, brought national attention to the conditions of local farmworkers including NPR, Slate Magazine, The Guardian, and Univision, and worked with attorneys, farmworkers, growers, advocates and policymakers to develop a set of recommendations for how the Counties of Santa Barbara and Ventura could improve labor protections for farmworkers.
We believe key actions by local policymakers to improve working conditions in the fields would include funding outreach and education on workplace issues, creating a central hotline for farmworkers to call about labor issues in the fields spanning a wide array of state agencies that are difficult for farmworkers to navigate, and providing local staff to work with state agencies to provide a presence on the ground in our communities.
We had our first success in the summer when the County of Santa Barbara added a prosecutor to the District Attorney’s office who will focus on wage theft in the fields. And alongside the United Farm Workers and farmworkers statewide, we helped a historic victory of making California the first state in the country to give equal rights to overtime pay for farmworkers after 80 years of exclusion.
Through a collaborative approach to raising up conditions for farmworkers, we can make the Central Coast the best place to work in agriculture in California and across the nation, and show that our community stands firmly in support of the rights and dignity of the hardest working people who put food on all of our tables.