Sunday, December 02, 2007

Outreach for Punjabi Farm Workers

As a result of an investigative report by India-West on alleged safety and labor code violations at several IndianAmerican-owned orchards in the Sacramento River valley, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board plans to launch an outreach and education effort in the Indian American agricultural labor force.
According to micro-data samples from the 2000 census, there are about 2,000 Punjabi farm laborers living in Sutter and neighboring Yuba County, and most of them spend at least a few months each year working in Punjabi-owned orchards.
South Asian growers account for less than one percent of the farmers in the California, but records show that they have been the targets of five percent of civil actions
Kulwant Johl, the president of the Yuba-Sutter County Farm Bureau, a trade association of farm owners, and the owner of over 900 acres of orchards, said Punjabi Americans make up approximately 15 percent of the local farm labor force. They cling to agricultural work, he said, because they lack the English language skills required for driving trucks or working in local stores.

ALRB, founded under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, aims to help farmworkers set up secret ballot elections to decide whether or not they wanted to be represented by labor unions; and also to combat unfair labor practices that pose a threat to collective bargaining. Blanco said that Punjabi farmworkers are likely to raise concerns about wage payment, overtime and access to healthcare, which do not fall under his agency's purview. "If we hear of any violations or complaints of discrimination that don't pertain to us, we'll forward that on to the appropriate agency."

CRLA and ALRB will together launch an outreach effort in the Punjabi American community during next year's pruning season in April and May. Although the sites of the outreach efforts have not as yet been finalized, they are sure to include Mahal Plaza. "I've also suggested bringing another person that people would want to talk to, like an immigration specialist who can talk about the citizenship process, or a person who does job skills training in computers or English," Pliscou told India-West.

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