Sen. Bill Monning, who represents parts of the Central Coast growing region, wants to better inform H-2A guestworkers of their rights when it comes to labor, housing, health and safety. To do so, he is advancing Senate Bill 1102, which would require employers to notify H-2A workers of those state and federal rights.

Monning (pictured above in 2019) amended the bill recently to also require employers to notify guestworkers of emergency disaster declarations “that may affect their health and safety during their employment,” such as the pandemic and wildfires. The bill also says an employer “shall not retaliate against an H-2A employee for raising questions about such declarations.”

The Senate Labor Committee debated the bill last week, with several ag group raising opposition. Monning argued that the guestworkers are “considered essential but expendable.” He said the program disincentivizes guestworkers to complain about abusive workplace conditions.

The bill’s sponsor, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, helped craft the bill. Policy advocates for the foundation claimed workers are being fired because they become ill or injured and “are not getting the chance to use their sick leave or claim workers compensation.” Monning pointed out that 80% of the COVID-positive tests in his district are in Salinas, which is populated primarily by farmworkers.

The Bryan Little of the California Farm Bureau Federation argued against the measure, saying it simply duplicates existing state and federal laws. In his rebuttal, Monning pointed to several California laws on H-2A that are distinct from the federal regulations, citing the need for better education on the state laws.

Mathew Allen of Western Growers raised concerns about the clause on notifying workers of disasters. He worried this could make a farmer liable for inadvertently leaving something out. A policy analyst for winegrape growers added that some wildfire declarations from three years ago are still in effect today.

Despite the arguments, the bill passed thee committee along party lines.