The Agricultural Jobs & Industry Stabilization Act of 2012—An Update

In light of the inaction of the federal government on comprehensive immigration reform, and the fact that California’s economic success relies heavily on the agricultural industry, which depends heavily on unauthorized workers from outside of the U.S. to maintain economic growth, Assembly Bill 1544, also known as the California Agricultural Jobs and Industry Stabilization Act of 2012, was introduced by Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella). “California growers are facing the choice of whether to violate employment law or to risk economic disaster,” said the Assembly Member. “As the largest economy in the country with the largest number of undocumented population in the nation, California has a responsibility to lend its voice in the debate of an immigration reform.”

Th e bill passed its fi rst hurdle on Wednesday, April 18th, in the California Assembly Committ ee on Labor and is now ready to move on to the next step—the Appropriations Committee.

Th e U.S. Department of Labor estimates that half of the population of agricultural workers in the U.S. is comprised of unauthorized persons, while the agricultural industry believes that number to exceed 75 percent. Similarly, California’s service industry, including businesses that provide domestic services, janitorial or building maintenance services, food preparation services, and housekeeping services, rely heavily on unauthorized workers as a sustainable labor supply.

Now that the bill has taken a step forward, and has increasing support, there is a chance it will become law. Aft er securing the necessary approval from the federal government, if enacted, AB 1544 would: authorize the Employment Development Department (EDD) to establish a state resident worker program to issue permits to unauthorized agricultural and service industry employees currently in the state; enabling them to work legally in California, provided they meet specifi c criteria. Th e bill would also require EDD to certify, prior to initiating the program, that there are not suffi cient U.S. citizens and legal residents in California to meet the labor demand for agriculture and service industry jobs; and specify that these now legal workers are entitled to all the same wage, hour and working condition protections given to U.S. citizens under California law. Within 90 days of the implementation of the California Agricultural Jobs and Industry Stabilization Act, an agricultural or service industry employer will be breaking the law if they employ an undocumented person who does not have a permit. Within 90 days of the implementation of the California Agricultural Jobs and Industry Stabilization Act, an agricultural or service industry employer will be breaking the law if they employ an undocumented person who does not have a permit.

The approval on April 18th was the first in a lengthy process to get Assembly Bill 1544 to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

For more information about AB 1544 and all California Bills, please visit: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.