Placeholder Image photo credit: PAC55/Wikimedia
Farm workers harvesting cauliflower in Salinas.

As nationwide concern over environmental and climate-related workplace hazards intensifies, so too have calls for worker protections.

Sebastian Sanchez is with California’s Labor and Workforce development agency. Sanchez said one group that has been receiving particular attention: H2A visa guest workers.

"The hope is that we can mitigate the threat that may exist and at least provide an extra level of comfort to those workers that there's gonna be some support provided to them," Sanchez said.

Temporary - or guest worker programs are not a new concept - especially for agricultural labor. The Bracero Program, started during the 2nd World War, brought millions of farm laborers from Mexico to the United States during harvest season each year from 1942 to 1964.

The current H2A visa system allows for companies in the US to employ foreign nationals in ag work on a temporary basis. The H2B visa does the same for non-agricultural work.

Combating immigration status-related discrimination has long been on the table here, Sanchez said.

"California, about 10 years ago, passed a set of laws addressing the unlawful use of immigration to threaten workers," Sanchez said. "For many undocumented workers, the use of their immigration status is commonly used by employers to keep them silent."

Sanchez said state protections and programs like a new immigration legal assistance fund aren’t born from thin air.

"Certainly there is likely a larger need than the amount that is currently being funded, but it is what is available," Sanchez said.

Agricultural Labor Relations Board General Counsel Julia Montgomery said ag labor issues don’t have to be a one-way street either.

"We're willing to engage in dialogue with how to improve conditions in agriculture with anyone who will, who, who wants to talk to us about it," Montgomery said.

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