California farmworkers could see better working and living conditions if a coronavirus relief package introduced Thursday is passed.
(CN) — California lawmakers have proposed a Covid-19 relief package for farmworkers who continue to work amid the global pandemic that would expand paid sick leave, child care and health care pay.
California’s agricultural industry grows and exports over $20 billion in goods annually and hauls in $50 billion in total receipts.
Many of those goods are picked by Central and South American laborers who have been deemed essential workers during the global pandemic.
While other Californians have been ordered to stay safe, at home farm workers continue to head to the fields and farms for work.
The relief package announced Thursday would be extended to all laborers working in the Golden State, including undocumented workers according to the bills’ authors Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella.
The relief is touted as the first in the nation for the industry’s workforce during the age of the coronavirus.
Farmers would receive direct subsidies for providing overtime work and pay to their employees, as well as supplemental hazard pay. The bills also seek to speed up the construction of temporary housing in an effort to address overcrowded housing conditions many farmworkers face in agricultural communities throughout California, Rivas said in a phone press conference.
“These workers are helping to feed the nation in these most trying times amidst this pandemic,” said Rivas. “They’re working in difficult environments with their children at home. They’re putting their health on the line for each and every one on us.”
Large groups of farmworkers are often forced into single apartments due to a shortage of available affordable housing in the state’s agricultural centers. One component of the relief package would speed up the approval of construction permits to build small housing units, which the lawmakers expect to be in high demand as the nation braces for an economic recession.
The lack of adequate housing space does not allow for social distancing and makes for a dangerous situation for the laborers. Temporary housing for agricultural workers would be included in the relief package as well.
“Farmworkers face horrific housing conditions,” said Rivas. “It’s not right. It’s unacceptable.”
Another component would expand electronic filing to all state trial courts to address the lack of access to court services for rural communities. The bills also seek to expand telehealth services given the lack of medical services in rural communities.
The bill authors sought input from members of the agricultural industry, farmworkers and the Department of Food and Agriculture. A campaign to education workers on their rights and Cal/OSHA standards will also be rolled out if the relief package is approved.
Garcia said California lawmakers are scheduled to return back to the Assembly on May 4, but that date is tenuous given the coronavirus pandemic.