With today’s technology and, specifically, the prevalent use of social media by the workforce at large, companies and business alike have taken to various social media sites to get their messages out. Labor unions are no different and have utilized social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to organize workers and push their agenda forward.
On February 20, 2019, United Farmworkers for America (“UFW”) went “live” for an hour on Facebook to discuss H-2A worker’s rights and to answer any questions that they may have regarding their employment in the United States. The UFW discussed several topics during the live video, such as California’s new overtime requirements, California’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate (“AEWR”), proposed changes to the H-2A program, transportation requirements, and reimbursement costs for traveling to the farm in the United States within the first week of work. The video is available on Facebook and can be found here. Please be advised the video is in Spanish (and is an hour long); however, we have summarized what was discussed in this video for your convenience.
The UFW discussed California’s new overtime requirements and instructed those watching that if they are not being paid time and a half for hours worked after 9.5 hours in a day then they should immediately contact “agencies that protect their rights” or send a direct message to the UFW on Facebook. Further, the UFW mentioned “proposed changes” to the H-2A program that includes eliminating the mandatory housing requirements. It is UFW’s position that if mandatory employer-provided housing is no longer a requirement, it will be almost impossible for H-2A workers to find affordable housing. These “proposed changes” have not been officially proposed, but rather are a result of informal discussions taking place among the current administration and H-2A stakeholders around the country. The UFW also mentioned that H-2A workers are paid the AEWR for all hours worked and they are entitled to paid rest breaks. The video mentions the current California AEWR is set at $13.92/hour, and even if workers are being paid piece rate, this is the base minimum wage for all hours worked.
Other topics discussed include the requirement that employers must pay H-2A workers for their costs to get to the United States within the first week of their employment and that transportation should always be free during their time working under the H-2A contract. The UFW also advised that they are holding meetings throughout the Central Valley to discuss the UFW’s “vision” of the “Blue Card Bill” introduced last month by U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein. The Blue Card Bill would present agricultural workers and their families who are in the United States illegally with work permits and protection from deportation, along with an eventual pathway to citizenship. This would apply only to those workers who have already been working in the field for at least 100 days over the past 2 years. More information on the Blue Card Bill can be found here.
The UFW further advised that all H-2A employees should keep their H-2A contract with them at all times to “protect themselves” from any misrepresentations of the employer. The UFW explained that the H-2A contract lays out everything they need to know about their work in the United States and if the employer deviates from the contract, they may have claims against the employer. The UFW went as far to say that President Trump and farmers want to get rid of mandatory employer-provided housing, the AEWR, and other H-2A provisions to lower their own costs and to take away the H-2A worker’s rights. UFW successfully played to the emotions of the people during this video, which was apparent as their constituents who were watching live were continuously commenting “yes we can!” while tagging several of their friends in the video to tune in and show support. The UFW has drafted a pamphlet memorializing the above and have encouraged those H-2A workers who are interested to send the UFW a direct message and they will personally send them the pamphlet.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
Given the reach of social media platforms in today’s society, the UFW will likely continue holding similar staged social media events like this that reach all potential H-2A workers (and potential future union members)—including those H-2A workers coming from Mexico and South America. The UFW’s main objective of this live broadcast was to encourage those watching to organize and speak out of any injustice that they see and to contact the UFW directly if they think rights are being violated. Given the domestic labor shortage facing the agricultural industry, the UFW likely sees H-2A workers as the next great frontier in labor organizing and the people that they will use to prop up their organization in the future. Should you have any questions regarding labor law compliance or should your employees elect to organize, please do not hesitate to contact the experts at the Saqui Law Group, a division of Dowling Aaron Incorporated.