Trafficking in U.S. agriculture worsened over the pandemic

Why California's Governor Newsom was wrong to veto bill for migrant workers

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Forced LaborHuman Trafficking

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.”

Costa notes,

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.

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Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

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Helen Londe,MD
Helen Londe,MD
1 month ago

Gov. Newsom: Your veto is based on beliefs that are not valid. Your veto is a travesty. I will not be voting for you for any position in government. You are a typical Democrat—that is ,you are basically a right-winger who is only liberal with regard to identity politics and a few “safe” issues. I am voting Green or Peace and Freedom from now on–Democrats are as awful as Repugs.

Rafael Gordon
Rafael Gordon
1 month ago

Governor Newsom, you and those like you show the world the dark side of the US. Your position of power could have made a difference but money speaks. And so it goes, the rich living off the backs of the poor and somehow this is fine. Nothing new, just the same people in power cocooned in their comfortable lives with not a care about social justice – gets in the way of business. Piss poor.

Michael Lampard
Michael Lampard
1 month ago

Governor Newsome needs, basically, to stop lying and stop pretending to protect the vulnerable employees like migrant workers, et al, and to start letting the truth get in the way of his stupid opinions, and convenient political garbage that he drags up.How can anyone trust such a guy?

rick
rick
1 month ago

You can’t,he says one thing and does another.

melvin Taylor
melvin Taylor
1 month ago

These workers deserve care period, they are the ones who keep us fed.

pascal molineaux
1 month ago

Sad. Even Governor Newsom, who pretends to be progressive, finally dudes with Big Ag Business and ignored the need for legal.protection for immigrant farm workers in California. Modern slavery has its defenders, basic human rights be damned.