Newsletter: Essential California: Using social media to make sure farmworkers know their rights

Farmworkers pick peppers near Bakersfield in 2011.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, June 14, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As a record-breaking heat wave boiled across the state, the United Farm Workers union turned to social media to inform farmworkers about their rights.

“Farmworkers are just like everybody else — we all have smartphones,” Marichel Mejia, a national field coordinator for the UFW Foundation, explained over the phone as she drove through the Coachella Valley. “Many of them are active on Facebook and WhatsApp, so we use Facebook as a means to be able to communicate with workers.”


The labor union, which was famously founded by civil rights icons Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the early 1960s, has been using bilingual and Spanish-language Facebook posts to educate workers about California’s heat regulations, which are among the most stringent in the nation.

In a tweet shared by thousands, the UFW also aimed to educate potential passersby about the regulations, urging them to call a union hotline if they drive past workers in a field where adequate shade shelters for breaks aren’t present.

Sam Bloch wrote about the tweet and the state regulations in a story for the New Food Economy, a nonprofit newsroom focused on covering the forces that shape how and what we eat.

“California probably has the best labor laws for farmworkers in the country, but there are three other states that have heat-related provisions,” Bloch said.

California’s farmworker heat protections require that employers provide access to shade, water and regular breaks, as well as training to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.


[Read In California, farm workers have a right to shade” in the New Food Economy]

California’s groundbreaking law was borne out of tragedy: In August 2005, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger instituted emergency heat regulations to protect the state’s farmworkers and other outdoor laborers following the heat-related deaths of multiple farmworkers that summer.

Those regulations and their enforcement, however, have been “a long process,” as Mejia put it. The union filed lawsuits in 2009 and 2012 alleging that Cal/OSHA was neglecting its duty to enforce the law. Those lawsuits resulted in a 2015 settlement that strengthened protections for workers and added greater accountability for enforcement, according to Mejia.

As part of the settlement, the UFW is also able to receive complaints on behalf of workers and relay them to Cal/OSHA — that’s the hotline whose number is listed in the tweet.

“That was part of the agreement,” Mejia said. “We know that many of the farmworkers are undocumented, and so they might be hesitant to call a government agency. But they do trust us.”

Mejia was out in the Coachella Valley this week doing direct outreach, passing out information on the heat protections, along with cooling neck bandanas, to workers harvesting grapes, chili peppers and lemons in the triple-digit desert heat. She said that this week’s heat wave had affected farmworkers everywhere from Sacramento to the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys, and into Oxnard.


“As we all have our dinner tonight and eat our fruits and vegetables, just keep in mind the hard-working people who are laboring in these high-heat temperatures to bring food to our tables,” she said.

“Be vigilant if you see any potential heat violations,” she continued. “Call us and we can follow up.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


California lawmakers have approved a state budget blueprint, but negotiations continue. The blueprint of the $214.8-billion state budget that the Legislature sent Gov. Gavin Newsom assumes significant new spending on K-12 schools and healthcare while setting aside an unprecedented amount of tax revenue for future economic slowdowns. Newsom and lawmakers will continue to privately negotiate over a closely watched effort to change California tax law — one that is essential to the governor’s plan to expand a tax credit for the state’s lowest earners. Los Angeles Times

Plus, dog parks, playgrounds and a theater: Here’s a rundown of some of the earmarks in the state budget. Sacramento Bee


The Toronto Raptors dethrone the Golden State Warriors to win their first NBA title. The Raptors beat the Warriors 114-110 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Los Angeles Times

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Is MOCA on the rebound? Three strong shows and free entry are welcome signs of change, according to art critic Christopher Knight. Los Angeles Times

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Citing the results of the region’s 2019 homeless count, Los Angeles’ chief auditor is urging transparency over the city’s use of Prop. HHH homeless funds. Los Angeles Daily News



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Why is San Francisco’s historic North Beach neighborhood suddenly littered with empty storefronts? San Francisco Chronicle

L.A. radio staple Jason Bentley has stepped down as host of KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” Los Angeles Times

Two people drowned over a five-day period in the same East Bay lake. Mercury News

In a now-viral speech, a San Diego high school valedictorian called out the adults — including an “always unavailable” counselor — who didn’t help her succeed. San Diego Union-Tribune


Meet the musician king of Fresno’s heavy metal scene. Fresno Bee

You can rent the famously opulent Hearst Castle pools for a party. But it will cost you $1,250 a person. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 71. San Diego: partly sunny, 67. San Francisco: partly sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 80. Sacramento: sunny, 90. More weather is here.


Pick your enemies carefully or you’ll never make it in Los Angeles.

— 1970s gossip columnist Rona Barrett


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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.