Wolfe also explained how the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, is under scrutiny by its federal counterpart to step up inspections of farming operations or face a federal take-over of the state program.

She cited a Dec. 1 deadline for workers with any involvement with on-the-job chemicals to be trained in new labeling formats. While Cal/OSHA has been relatively quiet on the subject, Wolfe said the federal government continues to watch the state’s involvement in such issues.

A recent Rand study suggested that California does not do enough planned inspections, and is therefore underreporting the true reality of worker injuries in California.

According to Wolfe, the California Employment Development Department estimates that between 600,000 and 750,000 people over the course of a calendar year are employed as farm laborers. Wolfe believes that estimate may be closer to 500,000.

The changing political climate related to undocumented workers and the rules on employers has ironically led to a growth in the number of farm labor contractors in California, Wolfe said.

“Applications for farm labor contract licenses have increased over 100 percent in the past year,” she said. “We cannot pretend that the contractor is not important in the work that we are doing.”

An ever-growing shortage of farm laborers when and where needed has also caused this shift as growers have moved away from hiring their own workforce to simply contracting with a labor contractor for the number of workers he needs to harvest his crop,

“At one time 40-55 percent of farmworkers worked for farm labor contractors,” Wolfe said. The percentage of available workers employed by FLC’s could be upwards of 65 percent now, she said.

While the Arredondo v. Delano Farms case is still pending in the appellate court, Wolfe is pessimistic that it will be judged in Delano Farms’ favor. That is one reason why she is pushing the Ag industry now to consider the far-reaching ramifications the legal case could have.

“With case law like this it will not be a stretch for them to look at you and say: ‘you’re the expert; you know the product best; you are the one trained to know how to safely store and use this product’,” she said. “All it will take is a 16-year-old girl dying, with a UFW funeral and a governor in attendance for the whole thing to blow up,” she said.

Current regulatory pressure by the U.S. Department of Labor, CalOSHA and California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation are also forcing the issue as “collective responsibility is becoming the new mantra in these agencies,” Wolfe said.


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