This blog by Daniel Costa was originally posted in the Economic Policy Institute. You can find the original post here.
We are disappointed to share that, despite the support of almost 37,000 in the Freedom United community who helped secure passage through both the Assembly and the Senate in California, Governor Newsom vetoed bill AB364 thus failing to protect all temporary migrant workers in California from unscrupulous foreign labor contractors (FLCs) who illegally bind them to exploitative work conditions.
AB364 would have helped ensure fair and ethical recruitment of foreign laborers coming to California by establishing a registry of FLCs which would allow them to be monitored and reduce the opportunity for exploitation dramatically. We are extremely disappointed that despite the consistent advocacy and campaigning efforts from the Freedom United community, Governor Newsom vetoed the bill.
In this blog, Daniel Costa unpacks the inaccuracies in his veto message which show a lack of understanding of what it takes to fight forced labor of temporary migrant workers and insufficient commitment to migrant workers’ rights at the highest level in California.
Daniel Costa writes:
First, Gov. Newsom notes that foreign labor contractors (aka international labor recruiters) are “already regulated” and thus AB 364 would create “a redundant process” for them. This is not true.
Gov. Newsom cites farm labor contractors as an example for this assertion. He is referencing the fact that farm labor contractors—which are essentially staffing firms that employ and send farmworkers to various farms—are already regulated for their activities as employers in California. Gov. Newsom seems to be concerned because some farm labor contractors may also recruit and hire migrant workers through the H-2A visa program—which allows U.S. employers to hire migrant farmworkers for temporary agricultural jobs—and wants to prevent the farm labor contractors that also recruit and hire H-2A workers from being subject to two different regulatory schemes.
This is misguided: foreign labor recruiters and farm labor contractors are not the same and their activities should not be conflated, even if they are in some cases the same entity.
AB 364 regulates activity that mostly takes place abroad, i.e. when international or foreign labor recruiters—which can be individuals or firms—recruit migrants in origin countries for temporary jobs in the United States. Existing rules applying to farm labor contractors regulate the activity of those contractors in their capacity as agricultural employers operating in the United States, not what they do outside the country.
Even if what Gov. Newsom cited were true about a redundancy in regulation, it would only account for a small subset of the migrant workers who need AB 364’s protections. Assuming that every single H-2A farmworker is employed by a farm labor contractor who recruited them abroad would only account for about 30,000 workers, or about 10% of all temporary migrant workers in California.
Cost goes on to say that this assumption lacks evidence meaning that it’s more likely that the vast majority of temporary migrant workers in California are unprotected.
The Governor’s message stated the second reason for vetoing the bill was that the category of visas it covered was too broad and that it brought regulation to “visa programs that would not normally be considered worker visa programs.” The problem is that only one program is given as an example – the L-1 visa which allows for the intra-company transfer of employees from foreign offices to the U.S. As Costa notes, ” To suggest that the L-1 visa is not a work visa and that migrants with L-1 visas are not “workers” is preposterous and harmful.”
For evidence that migrant workers with L-1 visas are in fact workers, Gov. Newsom need look no further than a glaring example from the Silicon Valley. The U.S. Department of Labor found a tech company in Fremont, Calif. was paying its L-1 workers from India just $1.21 an hour to install their computer and network systems. Many were working over 100 hours per week. If migrants employed with L-1 visas who are working full-time plus 60 hours of unpaid overtime doing skilled tasks aren’t workers, then who is a worker, exactly?
Read more about the Freedom United community’s campaign and leave a message for Governor Newsom in the comments here.