While California has a very broad economy, it is still very much an agricultural state that employs a lot of farm workers. According to a recent news article from the Lompoc Record, a new law designed to increase pesticide restrictions may actually have a major effect on employability of young farm workers.
Many farm workers are under the age of 18, as they have been for hundreds of years. While the working age in California is normally 18, there are exceptions for agricultural workers. While the law does not prohibit farms from hiring people under the age of 18 to work in the fields with adults, the law does say that underage workers are not allowed to perform early-entry work anymore. On a farm, early-entry work means going into the fields immediately after pesticides have been sprayed. The workers are required to wear protective gear, but, until this new federal law went into effect, both underage and adult workers could do early-entry work. Following the new law, underage workers are prohibited from performing early-entry work.
The director of the California Farm Bureau Federation expects this new law to hit California hard, and also possibly Washington, as these two Pacific coast states use more pesticides than any other states. This means that more workers are required to perform early-entry work than in any other state. As our Orange County employment attorneys can explain, when a federal law that is not determined to be unconstitutional is on the books, it will take precedence over a state law when the two laws conflict.
The reason for this is that under our legal system, as established in the Constitution, and through various Supreme Court decisions during the early part of the nation’s history, federal law is supreme over state law, so long as Congress has authority to make the law. If a new federal law is challenged, and the United States Supreme Court determines that it is not constitutional, the likely reason for this is because Congress lacked the authority to make such law.
However, Congress has fairly broad powers to control any goods or services involving interstate commerce through what is know as the active commerce clause and also the dormant commerce clause, and, since the agricultural products produced in California are sent to other states around the country, Congress likely has power under the commerce clause.
There is no question that pesticide use can be harmful to the environment, including those who live near one of these large farms. Many residents living near large California farms have reported increases in cancer rates and rates of respiratory illness and have fought for regulations like this one to reduce the amount of pesticides used at farms across the country.
The law changing the pesticide use requirements was not technically a new law but rather a change to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard. This was the first time the law had been amended since 1992. It is not certain whether this will actually lead a to a reduction in the number of workers under age 18 being hired, but since it will significantly reduce the amount of work they are legally able to perform, many predict that there will be less need for these workers.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Restrictions on younger field workers could affect California, October 1, 2015, Lompoc Record, by Harold Pierce
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