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  • California farm worker

    California’s undocumented workers make up nearly 9.4% of our workforce. They are the backbone of many California industries, including agriculture, construction, and hospitality. They are also among our most exploited workers, as some take advantage of their financial vulnerabilities, cultural and geographic isolation, and fear of deportation. As the powerful and poignant PBS documentary Rape in the Fields explored, immigrant women face shockingly high levels of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape at work. Undocumented workers are also subjected to rampant violations of wage and hour laws, including not being paid the minimum wage, not being paid overtime, and not being given proper meal and rest breaks. The median earnings of undocumented workers are about $20,000 per year, as compared to $50,000 per year for U.S.-born workers.

    However, California laws and court cases make clear that undocumented workers deserve protections. Our workplace protection and wage and hour laws apply to everyone, regardless of their status. In addition, our laws have sought to address the reason that many undocuments employees are afraid to come forward: a fear that their employer will get them deported. Employers are expressly prohibited from reporting or threatening to report undocumented workers or their relatives to authorities in retaliation for their asserting their rights under these laws. Employers who retaliate in such a way can lose their business licenses; lawyers making such reports can be disbarred.

    Two new developments are worth discussing.

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