AB 2346 Farm Workers Sue Employers for Cal/OSHA Violations

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-El Segundo) has just introduced a bill she says will add teeth to the current California heat illness regulations. It will allow farm workers to sue their employers if they allege the employers don’t comply with Cal/OSHA Regulations.

Sponsored by the United Farm Workers, AB 2346 — The Farm Worker Safety Act of 2012 – has many other facets. One of those facets will create a co-employment relationship between farm labor contractors and the farm employing them.

The bill, which is still not in print, will according to reliable sources, extend the heat standards far beyond those the Standards Board has created.

According the author’s office the bill is necessary to add teeth to the current 2005 Cal/OSHA Heat Illness regulations, which require that agricultural and other employers provide shade and water to their employees. The regulations also require, breaks and that supervisors be properly trained in how to spot heat illness and that employees be trained on how to spot symptoms in themselves.

Heat related illness is one of many serious health issues for California’s massive agricultural sector. There have been several highly visible deaths in the last several years including that of a 17-year old, pregnant teenager in 2008. Assemblywoman Butler reflects the opinions of many United Farm Worker representatives that these regulations have not done enough to reduce either illnesses or death from heat and thus a “greater incentive” is needed to get “growers and farm labor contractors” to follow the law. That incentive could be punitive.

Details are vague, but based on information from the author that greater incentive includes provisions that employers will undoubtedly consider job killers. According to the author’s office AB 2346 would codify the 2005 regulations and “give workers a right of legal recourse when an employer fails” to provide water or shade to workers.

This suggests a private right of action where an employee can sue an employer for monetary damages, in this case, if it’s believed that the employer has subjected the employee to life threatening conditions. How expansive this right to legal recourse will be is as yet unknown.

Amy Wolff, executive director of AgSafe, which provides safety training for the agricultural industry, says that regardless of what the language says, “safety is our priority and will continue to be our priority.”