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Advocates lobby for farmworker rights on the Central Coast

Advocates lobby for farmworker rights on the Central Coast

Advocates spoke out against mistreatment of farm laborers Wednesday and introduced a Farmworker Bill of Rights in front of the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria.

"As members of this community, we've long known and heard the stories of workers facing extreme overwork, wage theft and health and safety threats in our fields, directly from workers, concerned friends, neighbors and families," said Hazel Davalos, community organizing director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.

"We're here to stand up for basic human rights and a sustainable food system that treats workers with dignity and respect, sustains our planet and is healthy for our communities."

CAUSE introduced the Farmworker Bill of Rights in the wake of research they introduced in 2015, which members claim illustrates widespread labor abuses in the fields of the Central Coast.

The bill was created to set and enforce labor standards in local agriculture.

The rights proposed are grouped into three categories: curbing extreme overwork, cracking down on wage theft and protecting health and safety.

The requests range from protecting pregnant women from pesticide exposure to creating an anonymous tip hotline to protect workers from retaliation for filing complaints.

Several longtime field workers spoke Wednesday to reiterate the issues put forth by the Farmworker Bill of Rights.

"We work long hours from when the sun comes up until when it goes down, yet we don't make enough money to be able to provide everything we would like for our families," said Maria Garcia through a translator. "We are all very fearful to speak up."

Juana Ortiz described a time she needed to use the bathroom while working in a local field, but the bathroom didn't have toilet paper. She says she complained to a supervisor but was told to use her hands instead.

CAUSE, and other groups — such as the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, Santa Barbara County Action Network and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — are calling on the Santa Barbara and Ventura county boards of supervisors to support the Farmworker Bill of Rights.

"We have to do more to make sure the people who put food on our table are safe at work," said Raul Ruiz of the La Hermandad Hank Lacayo Youth and Family Center.

The groups involved tout more than 80 local endorsers, including trustees of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board and Santa Barbara Unified School District board and council members of local cities, including Santa Maria Councilwoman Terri Zuniga.

"This is our opportunity as a county to step up to the plate and set an example for agricultural communities throughout the nation to follow," Davalos said. "We want Santa Barbara County to be known as the best place for farmworkers in the United States.

"We want people buying food across the country to know that if they're buying Santa Barbara County fruits and vegetables, that they were produced under humane conditions."

Davalos said the Farmworker Bill of Rights has been presented to several of the Santa Barbara County supervisors — including 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr who had a staff member at the gathering Wednesday — and that the hope is to see it on the board's agenda in February or March.

"We want our workers to know that when they work in the fields in our community, they will be treated with dignity and respect," she said.

"We are confident that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will do the right thing and pass a Farmworker Bill of Rights that uses the power we have as a county to do all that we can to set a basic standard of human dignity for the hardworking people in our fields."

Abby Hamblin covers city government in Santa Maria and Guadalupe for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter: @AbbyHamblin.


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