Legislation that would change the frequency of license renewal and require continuing education for farm labor contractors (FLCs) in California has been drafted. In cooperation with the state Department of Industrial Relations, lead author Charles Poochigian introduced AB 2399 to the Assembly on February 20, and Senators Costa and McPherson are co-authoring a companion Senate bill.
The 1,100 or so licensed FLCs in the state constitute a relatively stable employer population that has made great strides in correcting practices to reduce legal and personal abuses once common in this industry. Current law requires them to renew their licenses each year by filing a written application, paying a $350 fee, depositing a $10,000 surety bond, satisfactorily undergoing an investigation of character and responsibility, and passing a test of knowledge essential to their occupation. The volume of applications submitted to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE, headed by the Labor Commissioner) for FLC and other professional licenses is quite large. DLSE is looking for ways to process them faster and avoid problems asociated with applicants waiting up to several weeks for their renewals, sometimes causing them to lose jobs or risk operating without a valid license.
The new bill would amend Sections 1684 and 1688 of the Labor Code in a few related ways that support a staggered, more manageable renewal schedule. Licenses would be good for two years, and the renewal date could be any day of the year, no longer automatically the FLC's date of birth. The consequent streamlining for the Labor Commissioner's Office will allow for not only faster processing of applications but also a modest reduction of the per-year license fee, to $675 for two years.
As under the existing system, if not found to have violated state law during the preceding year, an FLC would be able to renew once without retaking the licensing examination. With the change to a biennial schedule, this means that a contractor could go up to 4 years without taking an exam. In place of the exam at alternate renewals, the FLC would have to successfully complete an 8-hour course on the duties and responsibilities of farm labor contractors and regulatory changes in labor management (including health and safety) laws pertaining to them. The Labor Commissioner will design the course curriculum and certify individuals outside of DLSE to conduct this training.
Benefits of continuing education that have been well demonstrated in other professions are likely to be at least as great in farm labor contracting. FLCs' participation in a course tailored to their functions and perspectives should enhance awareness of and compliance with changing legal standards. Ultimately, the effects will be to prevent offenses that unfairly burden workers, the public, and the enforcement system.
At this stage, the proposed bill does not explicitly relate to the "internal" education requirements created in 1992 through AB 3146. Effective January 1993, FLCs have been obligated to provide all their supervisory employees with training on laws that regulate terms and conditions of agricultural employment, including worker safety. That earlier legislation was based on awareness that FLC licensing processes do not necessarily translate into influence on first-line supervisors - the foremen, crew bosses, or "mayordomos" who handle day-to-day employee relations in all but the smallest FLC businesses. Although contractors may be held accountable for the conduct of these supervisors, many crew bosses operate with a large degree of autonomy.
Specific content and method of the supervisory training envisioned by AB 3146 have never been defined. FLCs are asked to simply self-certify on the license application that this requirement has or will be met. The new Poochigian bill (AB 2399) appears to present an excellent opportunity for the DLSE to clarify for labor contractors where their priorities ought to be placed within the immense body of law that regulates FLC labor management practices.
José Millan is the California State Labor Commissioner, Department of Industrial Relations.