Collect past evidence
As you’re jotting down your experiences, also look for written messages between you and your employer where you describe conditions at work and your supervisor’s response. This could be letters, emails or even screenshots of a text message conversation.
Other important pieces of information to look for are your pay stubs that show a cut in wages or hours after you spoke, or photos of conditions in the fields, your workstation or housing, if it’s employer-provided.
Seek help from the professionals
Salgado also recommends looking for the help of a labor rights organization in your area. Advocates can help you create a timeline of what happened, help you contact your employer if you want to try resolving the situation directly, or even prepare you for talking to state officials if you choose to take that step.
Based on their resources, like staff numbers, some groups can provide more help than others. So if you think you may need extra guidance and support, consider reaching out to more than one organization.
Here are some organizations in the Bay Area that can connect farmworkers with help:
- California Rural Legal Assistance: (800) 337-0690
- Legal Aid at Work: (415) 864-8208
- North Bay Organizing Project: (707) 843-7858
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice/Asian Law Caucus: (415) 896-1701
- Centro Legal de la Raza (Oakland): (510) 437-1554
- La Raza Centro Legal (San Francisco): (415) 575-3500
I want to file a claim so officials can investigate my situation. What’s next?
If you are ready to report what happened, the ALRB will be the agency you contact. You will need a Charge Against Employer form (PDF), which you need to print out, complete and either email or mail to your nearest ALRB field office.
For Bay Area residents, that’s the Santa Rosa office:
- Phone: (707) 527-3256
- Email: Contact regional director Jessica Arciniega at Jessica.Arciniega@alrb.ca.gov
- Mail: 606 Healdsburg Avenue Santa Rosa, CA 95401
If you need to complete the form in another language that is not English, reach out to your nearest field office directly.
Keep in mind that the ALRB requires at least two workers to come together to file a charge. If you are nervous about this step, a workers’ rights group can file a charge on your behalf — which is what happened in the Mauritson Farms case.
Why you should file a charge as soon as possible (even if you’re anxious)
Labor advocates recommend employees report what happened to them as soon as they can. This gives state officials more time to talk to laborers and investigate what happened in the fields.
Timing becomes even more important when farmworkers are in the country on a temporary work permit, like the H-2A visa.
It is completely understandable if you are feeling very nervous about filing a report — especially if you are afraid your employer or the person that got you the job is threatening you with further retaliation. But keep in mind that there is a time limit to report an incident with the state. You only have six months from the moment you experienced retaliation (when your hours were cut, or you were fired or knew you would not be rehired) to file a charge with the ALRB.
After the six-month mark, officials cannot launch an investigation.
What if your boss — or the individual that connected you with employment, like a job recruiter — continues to threaten you with further retaliation if you talk to the state?
In this case, it could be a good idea to seek help from a labor rights group to protect yourself. See a list of labor rights groups you can contact.
Once I file a charge with the ALRB, what happens?
The agency assesses your case.
Officials will first decide if your situation meets the requirements to begin an investigation.
Some examples of when the ALRB wouldn’t be able to take your case: if you were fired — two years ago — and you think your boss did that to retaliate against you, that exceeds the ALRB’s six-month time limit and the agency cannot launch an investigation. Or if the incident took place in a farm in another state, that is also out of the ALRB’s jurisdiction.
An investigation begins, and your employer is notified.
If the agency is able to take the case, ALRB officials will confirm that with you. They will then notify your employer about the charge, and that an investigation will begin, says ALRB General Counsel Julia Montgomery.
“A team of lawyers and investigators will take on the investigation, which can include the workers involved in the investigation, other employees, supervisors and anyone else that could have relevant information,” said Montgomery. Investigators can also request documents and other written records from both employers and workers, she said.
This step can take months, or even years. If you are no longer in the U.S. during the investigation because of your immigration situation, the ALRB will still look to contact you. In past cases, agency officials have sought out farmworkers even when they have traveled back to remote rural communities in their countries of origin.
A decision is made about the charge.
After the investigation, officials will determine if there is enough evidence to confirm if retaliation or another unfair labor practice took place. If there is not enough evidence, the charge is dismissed.
If the evidence is sufficient, however, the ALRB regional director will present a formal complaint against the employer.
But, hold on, that doesn’t mean you have won your case yet.
How the ALRB brings a case against an employer
A date for a hearing will be set and an administrative judge will decide whether the employer did in fact break the law.
Both sides will have an opportunity to defend their case: your employer and their legal representatives, and the ALRB which will argue that you experienced retaliation.
If the judge decides in favor of the ALRB and the employees involved, workers can receive compensation to make up for lost wages and potentially even be re-employed if they lost their jobs. ALRB officials will travel to the farm and inform other employees of the case. Additionally, employers could face heavy fines.
At any step of the process, the ALRB can strike a settlement agreement with the employer. A settlement can also include compensation for the affected workers or even employment offers.
I am nervous about my immigration situation if I report what happened at work. What are my options?
On July 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $4.5 million pilot program to provide free immigration legal services to farmworkers who are involved in state labor investigations. This would include case-review services, legal advice and representation by an attorney to laborers in California who have a pending case with either the ALRB, the Labor Commissioner’s Office or Cal/OSHA.