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Bill aims to reduce sexual harassment of California farmworkers

Anyone who's driven past the many acres of agricultural fields in California knows how difficult farm laborers' jobs are. They do backbreaking work in intense heat for little money. Moreover, since many do not speak English and are not legal residents (or have family members who aren't), they often feel they have little recourse if they are mistreated by employers. Female farm laborers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment.

Now a bill has been introduced by State Sen. Bill Monning of Carmel that aims to reduce sexual harassment of farm laborers. SB1087 would allow California's labor commissioner to revoke the licenses of farm labor contractors who hire crew supervisors with a history of sexual harassment. It would also require all farm employees, not just supervisors, to have more sexual harassment training.

One farmworker, who says a supervisor's harassment eventually led to assault, contends that supervisors are trained "about pesticides, farm safety and everything else," However, she says they are often just told to sign a document stipulating that they've had sexual harassment training when they haven't. This practice is known as "tailgate training."

Monning says he was moved to do something about the issue by a report from University of California-Berkeley on sexual assault and harassment of farmworkers. He hopes to "create a greater framework of integrity in the fields, translating into greater protection, particularly for female workers."

California's farm groups have historically resisted increased government regulation, and some, like the California Farm Bureau Federation, seem prepared to fight this. While they acknowledge the problem, they argue that employers aren't able to do background checks on their supervisors. A spokesman for the group said, "There's really no practical way that we know of for that farm labor contractor to learn that information." Monning's solution to that problem is to require prospective employees to disclose any prior convictions or judgments for sexual harassment or assault.

Not all farm groups are against the proposed legislation. The head of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League says the situation as it stands now for female farmworkers is "unacceptable."

Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs in all types of industries in California and to employees at all levels. No one should have to tolerate such treatment to support themselves and their families. Victims of abuse or harassment can and should get the advice of a legal professional who can help them seek justice.

Source: KQED, "Bill Would Impose Sanctions for Sexually Harassing Farmworkers" Sasha Khokha, May. 22, 2014

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