Agriculture

Assemblyman Rivas speaks on COVID-19 relief package for farmworkers

First-in-the-nation bills would expand paid sick leave, provide hazard pay and subsidies for child care.
Rivas at a farmworker food drive in Salinas. Photo provided by the office of Robert Rivas.
Rivas at a farmworker food drive in Salinas. Photo provided by the office of Robert Rivas.

State Assemblymembers Robert Rivas and Eduardo Garcia held a teleconference April 9 on the five bills they introduced in the state legislature, known as the California Farmworker COVID-19 Relief Package. It includes assembly bills 2915, 2956, 2164, 3155 and 2165, and is aimed at addressing the economic, health and housing needs of agricultural workers.

With 100,000 farmworkers living in the 30th District, including San Benito County, Rivas said their needs must be front and center during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Long before an advisory that classified farmworkers as essential workers, I’ve always known that our farmworkers are the unsung heroes who have helped keep our country fed,” Rivas said. “As a result I feel a personal responsibility to make sure we take care of them just like they take care of us.”

The relief package includes proposals to expand paid sick leave from three days to two weeks, provide supplemental hazard pay of $3 per hour, provide credit opportunities for farmers who perform overtime work, fund an outreach campaign to farmworkers on safety practices, provide subsidies for childcare, telehealth and e-filing capabilities for rural areas, and provide temporary housing to mitigate overcrowding. 

In the teleconference, Rivas said the package addresses comprehensive relief in health and workplace safety, economic security, access to health and childcare, access to housing and access to justice.  

Rivas called the farmworker economy the lifeblood of his district and Garcia’s 56th District. He said they were assisted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and farmworker advocate groups in drafting the bills. However, he said there is still much work needed to fine-tune the proposals. 

“Altogether, this California COVID-19 Relief Package has the potential of really impacting and touching nearly every facet of farmworker life,” Rivas said.

Additionally, the supplemental hazard pay component of the package has received attention from 41 members of Congress who have called for the next federal stimulus to include hazard pay for many essential workers such as janitors and grocery workers, Rivas said.

“I certainly hope that Congress does the right thing and includes farmworkers in this next round of the stimulus package,” Rivas said. “They absolutely have a moral responsibility to act and to put the nation’s farm labor force at the forefront.”

As the nation heads toward economic fallout in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Rivas said if the state does not protect farmworkers and the essential work they provide, the economic consequences would be greater.  

“This first-in-the-nation relief package for our farmworkers is certainly a starting point,” Rivas said. 

Garcia addressed the relief package in Spanish and said farmworkers play an important role in the near $50 billion agriculture economy in California. 

“Para nosotros es es de gran importancia la salud pública de nuestros trabajadores esenciales que vienen siendo los trabajadores agrícolas,” Garcia said. “Al mismo tiempo asegurando que como trabajadores esenciales reciban la compensación apropiada como se está platicando con otros trabajadores de otras industrias de trabajos esenciales.”

(It’s of great importance for us the public health of our essential workers such as farmworkers. At the same time, we are ensuring that as essential workers they receive the appropriate compensation as it is being discussed with other workers from other industries that are essential.)

During a question and answer portion of the teleconference, Rivas said he hoped the state legislature reconvenes on May 4, though he said representatives will follow the recommendation of medical professionals. 

“I know myself and a lot of our colleagues are itching to get back to work so we can start the important work with this legislation and other legislation that is going to be proposed,” Rivas said. 

 

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.