California AG promises improved protection for farmworkers

Farmworkers make up nearly 20% of the San Joaquin Valley's workforce. Local labor leaders say seeing improvements is a must.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- California's new attorney general promised better protection for farmworkers, who make up nearly 20% of the San Joaquin Valley's workforce.

Attorney General Rob Bonta listened to concerns from Central California agriculture labor leaders on Wednesday in northwest Fresno.

He said he heard repeated comments about the non-existent enforcement of laws meant to keep farmworkers safe.

An Action News investigation earlier this year found Cal/OSHA conducted physical inspections after only about 8% of complaints, which the agency attributed in part to a shortage of workplace safety inspectors during the pandemic.

Bonta took office six months ago and recently established a workers' rights and fair labor section, where attorneys are assigned to address built-in business practices undermining working conditions.

When asked for specifics about improving enforcement, he said he's at the listening stage but promised improvement.

Labor leader Armando Elenes said that's a must.

"It's not just going after everybody. It's really trying to make sure everybody has a level playing field and that the worker at the bottom is not the one getting the brunt of it and being used," Elenes said.

"We want to earn your trust. The laws on the books should be the laws in the field," Bonta said.

When asked what success would look like as far as improved enforcement, Elenes said it would be if he came to a field and it took him more than an hour to find a safety violation.

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