An Urgency Ordinance was passed on 3/20/18 in the city of Santa Maria.  The moratorium limited the number of H-2A workers allowed to reside per dwelling in residential zones 1 (single family) and 2 (medium density) to a maximum of 6.  The Urgency Ordinance was only in effect for 45 days.  The City Council was considering a 10-month extension, but has declined.  As such, the moratorium expired on 5/4/18.  It is expected that a permanent policy will develop in the coming months as the City will be researching and conducting a series of workshops in the meantime.

Brief synopsis on the H-2A program:

The H-2A program allows employers, who meet specific regulatory requirements, to bring in foreign workers to fill temporary agricultural jobs.  The H-2A program is heavily regulated for the benefit of the worker and the employer.

The U.S. employer must demonstrate that there is not enough domestic workers qualified and available to perform the labor involved in the petition.  The employer must also pay at minimum, the highest applicable wage rates in effect.  This can be calculated hourly or by piece rate.  The employer must guarantee at least 75% of hours worked that was initially projected (on the petition) during the contract period.  The employer must provide the worker with 3 meals per day or furnish cooking and kitchen facilities where workers can prepare their own meals.  Employer must also provide daily transportation, which meets all applicable safety standards, to and from the worksite and living quarters.

Housing must be provided at no cost to the worker.  Housing occupancy depends on the size of the house.  The requirement is based on so many square feet per occupant.  For example, a sleeping room must be separated from other living spaces and allow one occupant a minimum of 50 square feet of floor space.  Other requirements are based on a ration.  For example, an employer must provide one toilet for each 10 occupants of each sex (source).

For more information on the H-2A worker program, visit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Department of Labor.

On another note…

There is currently a bill on the floor, AB 1913, that would amend the current language of Section 9998 of the Business and Professions Code extending a violation of the provisions to farm labor contractors.  The original bill, presented as SB 477, specifically omitted agricultural workers because “California already regulates farm labor contractors through a comprehensive licensing system” (source).

SB 477 states that a violation of foreign labor contractor regulations would authorize the commissioner or a person aggrieved by a violation of the provisions to file suit for damages, among other things.  A person who violates the provisions as outlined in SB 477 are guilty of a misdemeanor.  AB 1913 would extend these provisions to farm labor contractors – an unnecessary addition.  Employers who do not comply with the strict regulations of H-2A operations are subject to penalties and expensive fines with the potential to be prohibited from future certification.

The H-2A program is highly regulated and has been proven beneficial for many farmers and farm labor contractors in our area.  Although sensitive to public concern, a permanent moratorium could harm farmers and farm labor contractors who depend on H-2A workers.

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