California Increases Penalties for Farm Labor Violations

On Jan 1, 2013, a new law came into effect in California that allows for serious civil penalties — fines of up to $50,000 — to be levied against a farm labor contractor (FLC) for license violations.  The law amends Section 1683 of the California Labor Code, and provides teeth to enforcement agents.  Previously, the Labor Commissioner was restricted to referring license violation cases for criminal misdemeanor prosecution, an action rarely pursued.  Now that AB 1675 is on the books, we’ve been told that the Labor Commissioner plans to specifically target agriculture as one of three primary enforcement areas for 2013.  Its on-the-ground division, the Bureau of Field Enforcement (“BOFE”), has recently tripled the number of field agents in the Northern CA region (from 1 to 3).  BOFE officers will be going to businesses unannounced to conduct audits. 


Under California law, a vineyard management company is almost always considered an FLC.  Vineyard management companies must comply with California laws regulating FLCs, including registration and licensing.  Growers or owners who engage a vineyard management company/FLC have an affirmative statutory obligation to check the license and retain a copy for at least three years following the termination of services. 

For more information on the new law or assistance with other grower issues, please contact Caroline Boller at [email protected]   

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Update on “Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act”

Governor Jerry Brown’s June 2011 veto of SB 104, “The Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act,” was the fifth straight year that the bill passed the legislature only to be vetoed.  The bill would have required a farm employer to recognize a union on the strength of a majority of the employees signing cards signifying interest in unionization.  The bill also contained revised rules concerning agricultural workers’ overtime.  The veto came as a surprise to most as Governor Brown has historically championed labor.  In vetoing the bill, Governor Brown noted that although he appreciated the frustrations giving rise to the bill, it was a ”drastic change” and he was not yet convinced that the provisions were ”justified.”

Three short months later Governor Brown proposed his own revisions to the bill, which was introduced this month by Darrell Steinberg as SB 126.  The bill addresses issues of illegal employer activity in the election process.  Some of the key elements of SB126 are the following:

  • Allows immediate certification of a union if employer election violations could have affected a unionization vote.
  • Provides an expedited process for the ALRB to certify elections. Farm workers now must wait up to two years or more after voting before they can begin negotiating a union contract with growers.
  • Gives authority for the ALRB general counsel to go to court to reinstate farm workers who are illegally fired by employers during union election drives.
  • Provides an accelerated process under the state’s 2002 binding mediation law, allowing mediation to produce a union contract to commence after 90 days instead of 180 days of normal bargaining.
SB 126 passed the legislature and was presented to the Governor on September 16, 2011.  As of today the Governor has not signed the bill into law.
For more information or assistance on labor and employment issues contact Jennifer Phillips at [email protected]
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