Recent visits and fines by the California State Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) to Marin and Sonoma Farms have stirred up the small farm community, resulting in some confusion and consternation. In response, UC Cooperative Extension Marin and partners put on a workshop on September 30, at the Dance Palace Community Center in Point Reyes Station, to sort out and clarify California farm labor law compliance. This was a follow-up to a similar workshop April 1, 2010, that UCCE and partners put on in quick response to the unannounced farm inspections and fines.
Marin and Sonoma row crop farms are very small by state and national standards. They are mostly family farms, run by family members, close friends, and informal agreements and handshakes. However, that is not how labor codes function to protect employers and employees. In the 1970s, farm labor protection laws were put in place to protect migrant and seasonal workers who were laboring under unfair conditions. Also in the early seventies, small organic farms began to spring up, bringing with them a different kind of labor pool, often with work exchanged for training and a farm experience.
Until this year, this discrepancy went unnoticed. Now that DLSE has demonstrated that labor codes apply to all agricultural operations, area farmers needed compliance information, and to explore alternatives for training future farmers. The situation is more acute here in Marin, due to the high costs of living and labor, and lack of farm worker housing. Marin farmers are working diligently to comply with the laws and to stay in business.
The workshop gave everybody a good look at what farmers need to do to comply. C. Bryan Little, Chief Operating Officer, Farm Employers Labor Service, explained the rules in detail, and Leslie Ruhland talked about payroll services and showed examples of employee notification and payroll processing. Participants received templates of plans and reports required for compliance with labor codes and health and safety standards. The information from this and the April workshop is available at www.growninmarin.org, under the GIM Workshops link.