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

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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.

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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.

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Screenshot of the tweet.
(@UFWupdates/Twitter)

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.

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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.

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“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:

TOP STORIES

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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L.A. STORIES

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Facing criticism, actress Jessica Biel explains why she opposes California’s vaccine bill. Los Angeles Times

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

Plus: How did Elliott Hundley curate 7,500 artworks into a 39-piece MOCA show? With scissors. Los Angeles Times

A “queer girl” guide to Los Angeles, with special attention paid to businesses owned by women, LGBTQ people and people of color. Autostraddle

There’s a real-life Michael Connelly character in the LAPD, and she’s gunning for Harry Bosch’s job. Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.

IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

The ACLU filed a $1-million claim against Corona police after an immigrant father was deported. The man was stopped by Corona police while driving his daughters to school. But instead of issuing a speeding ticket, they asked about his immigration status and then called U.S. Customs and Border Protection — in violation of state and federal laws, according to the ACLU’s claim. Riverside Press-Enterprise

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

What’s the former governor doing now? Jerry Brown is launching a California-China climate change institute at UC Berkeley. Sacramento Bee

Why San Francisco wants to stop charging inmates for phone calls. KQED

Inglewood’s City Council unanimously approved permanent rent control measures to protect tenants amid a development boom. Curbed LA

Mountain View still plans to ban overnight RV dwellers, despite an ACLU challenge. As rent prices have continued to soar, some residents have moved into RVs to remain in the region. The matter was debated at a marathon nine-hour (!) City Council meeting that continued until about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. Mercury News

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

CRIME AND COURTS

Deadly violence has surged in California’s overwhelmed county jails, except in Los Angeles. Since California’s 2011 prison realignment, jail homicides in L.A. dropped sharply as deadly violence escalated elsewhere in the state. Sacramento Bee / Pro Publica

Twelve white San Francisco cops who were passed over for promotions are suing the city, alleging race and sex discrimination. San Francisco Chronicle

THE ENVIRONMENT

One of Northern California’s most exclusive hotels, the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, is facing a $1.6-million penalty for failing to provide public beach access. Mercury News

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

California cities lead the U.S. in inflation. Housing costs are a big reason why. Los Angeles Times

Sacramento students will get free transit rides for one year starting this fall. Sacramento Bee

After vandals defaced a mural honoring Cesar Chavez in San Fernando, a community leaped into action to restore it. Los Angeles Daily News

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

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

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.

AND FINALLY

Pick your enemies carefully or you’ll never make it in Los Angeles.
1970s gossip columnist Rona Barrett

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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.


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