Jan 3, 2023
Late last month, Governor Gavin Newsom officially signed AB 2043 and AB 2165 into law, two key pieces of the California Farmworker COVID-19 Relief Package that passed the Legislature in August. Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, Robert Rivas, and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia authored AB 2165. Rivas, Garcia, and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez authored AB 2043. The bills are part of the nation’s first legislative package aimed at protecting agricultural workers against the coronavirus.
AB 2043, the primary bill within the relief package, provides essential protections for California’s agricultural workers during the pandemic. Those protections include:
AB 2165, which takes effect on January 1, expands the availability of electronic filing to all state trial courts. According to the bill, “access to courthouses is a problem in many farmworker and other rural communities.” In effect, agricultural workers who contract COVID-19 on the job will now be able to file workers’ compensation claims electronically.
According to recent studies, agricultural workers in Monterey County are three times more likely to contract the coronavirus than those in the general population. Additionally, Latinos in the county account for 93% of COVID-19 cases (despite representing only 61% of the population). Similarly, a study from UCLA shows Latino deaths have quintupled since May on account of their status as “unsung essential workers” in the agriculture industry.
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“This is a major victory for California’s most vulnerable essential workers – farmworkers,” said Assemblymember Rivas. “I am grateful to the Governor for his signature on AB 2043 and AB 2165, which will help protect agricultural communities against the spread of COVID-19 and ensure workers have access to critical workplace safety information and essential state services during this pandemic. I am proud to have worked with such a broad coalition of supporters to make this a reality. We brought everyone to the table, including Republicans, Democrats, growers, farmworkers, advocates, state agencies, and industry representatives to craft this prudent package of legislation which will save lives.”
“Thank you, Governor Newsom, for responding to our call for increased farmworker protections,” said Assemblymember Garcia. “Our agricultural farmworker communities have been standing on the frontlines, making extraordinary sacrifices to keep us fed throughout this pandemic. I commend Assemblymember Rivas for leading the charge on these critical issues, and we remain committed to ensuring equity for rural regions across our state now and beyond this public health crisis.”
Pete Maturino, Agricultural Division Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), said, “California’s farmworkers have been a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic and risked their lives daily to make sure we could put food on the table. UFCW members are proud to have supported AB 2043 to provide our farmworkers with the access to the information they need to protect themselves, their coworkers and their families from infection.”
The new bills are among multiple steps taken in recent months by Governor Newsom to ensure California workers impacted by COVID-19 are protected and receive the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve. However, the relief package represents the first legislation to specifically address the prevalence of COVID-19 among the state’s agricultural workers.
Charles Rondeau, former Chairperson of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Law Commission of the State Bar of California and Dordulain Law Group’s Workers’ Compensation Division Head, called the passage of the new bills “a great victory” for the state’s 700,000 farmworkers. “These essential workers put their lives at risk every day to help put food on our tables, and they absolutely deserve these basic protections,” he said.
Samuel Dordulian, DLG’s Founder and President, echoed Rondeau’s sentiment, calling the relief package “a critical step in ensuring our state’s essential workers are protected in the event of a COVID-19 contraction.” “Workers who put themselves at risk need to know that if, God forbid, they ever fall ill and contract coronavirus, they will have access to the medial benefits and financial compensation they deserve to ensure a full recovery.”
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