There’s An Election Coming Up in November

Tulare County yet again leads the globe in agricultural production. This is a wonderful achievement, attributable to all involved–and for his contribution, State Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-22) has vowed to “continue the fight for farmers.” By whom he means not those who actually do any raking, but those who rake in the profits.

A quick look into Mathis’ form 460 for 2015 will show donations from the following:

  • California Cotton Ginners and Growers PAC
  • California Fresh Fruit Association PAC
  • Western Agricultural Processors Association PAC
  • Raisin Bargaining Association PAC
  • California Rice PAC
  • American Pistachio Growers California PAC
  • California Citrus Mutual PAC
  • Sunkist PAC

Conspicuous by their absence are organizations such as the United Farm Workers.

I don’t know the percentage of migrant workers–those who come and go with the seasonal cycle of ag work–who are not actually residents of Tulare County. Neither do I know the percentage of those who reside here while doing seasonal work around the Valley. What I do know is that we’re talking hard labor. What I do know is that those working the fields deserve the same overtime consideration as everyone else working in the industry.

Our youngest son thought he’d try his hand at ag labor. He didn’t last a week.

“Out of the whole labor force in Tulare County,” he said, “no one deserves overtime pay more than ag pickers.”

Overtime is widely considered as anything beyond 40 hours per week–unless you find yourself employed in the fields. There, you’ll have to toil 60 hours to reach the same threshold a person packing the produce you picked reached 20 hours ago.

It’s not that everyone should earn the same pay–it’s that everyone should labor under the same umbrella of rules.

State Assembly Bill 1066, introduced by San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, seeks to redress this. It cleared the State Senate and, on Monday, the 29th of August, the State Assembly. It now awaits Governor Brown’s signature.

Mathis called the bill “misguided.”

Mathis doesn’t generate any of his own money. He receives campaign contributions and, as a state assemblyman, his salary is paid by the public. He also receives disability benefits from the Veterans Administration. This is supplemented by funds from the Wounded Warrior Project.

What is “misguided,” to Mathis, is anything he can’t siphon money from.

Let me cite his chief of staff, Sean Doherty:

From: Sean Doherty <[email protected]> Date: May 25, 2015 at 16:39:11 PDT Subject: Schedule

Afternoon guys, I just wanted to reiterate that until July 1 fundraising must take priority over ALL schedule requests and/or needs. We have multiple events in June and they are all important in order for us to hit our goals. When considering and/or submitting requests please ask yourself, “does this forward our goal for the June 30th report.” If it does not then please understand it will take second place to a fundraising opportunity. Thanks, Sean

It’s this mentality that prevented Mathis from requesting a Joint Legislative Audit Committee audit of Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC) when he was asked to by a member of TRMC’s $85 million bond oversight committee. The committee member wasn’t a donor.

Care to guess who was?

Let’s be clear. You can be for farmers, and for farm workers, equally. Especially if you’re their state assembly representative.

For those of you not old enough to remember, there used to be, in agriculture, a short-handled hoe. Called “el cortito,” its handle was 12 to 24 inches long, and it forced laborers into a painful stooping position. It took until 1975 for its use to finally be prohibited when it was declared an occupational hazard to farm workers.

And farming did not come to a grinding halt. It’s safe to say, in fact, that agriculture has only grown. In 1975 ag production in Tulare County amounted to $714,740,000; in 2015, it was valued at $6,980,977,800.

But here’s what I want you to keep in mind: There’s an election coming up in November.

— Joseph Oldenbourg

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