UC Cooperative Extension helps family farmers comply with labor laws

The Issue

Many small farmers in California, especially the 2,000-plus refugee farmers from Laos and Thailand, rely on extended family to help on the farm. Typically, these relatives volunteer or trade labor on each others' farms. Often unbeknownst to the farmers, the state considers the relatives to be employees and a workers' compensation policy is required. The farmers must also comply with other labor regulations.

The State of California conducts unannounced "sweeps" of farms (and other businesses) to inspect for violations of labor code, safety and health regulations and payroll rules. In 2005 and 2008, individual Hmong and Hispanic farmers were fined between $14,000 and $26,000 each for non compliance.

What Has ANR Done?

Richard Molinar, the UCCE Small Farm Program advisor in Fresno County, received a $47,000 grant from the Western Center for Risk Management Education to help Southeast Asian farmers and other minorities comply with state labor regulations. Molinar and his assistant, Michael Yang, worked with a variety of community organizations to reach farmers. Regulatory agencies provided clarification of the laws. The information was presented to many of the 4,000 farmers in Fresno County in English, Spanish, Lao and Hmong in meetings, on the radio and television, and in trade magazines and newspapers. A handout summarizing compliance issues was developed to assist farmers.

The Payoff

Family farms avoid thousands of dollars in potential fines

More than 1,000 Southeast Asian refugee farmers, and other farmers in Fresno County and throughout the state, are better informed about labor law compliance. They are now aware of the risks and potential fines for being out of compliance.

By cooperating with community organizations, UCCE was able to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate education, and create an environment of support for regulatory compliance. This program has helped farmers maintain their tradition of working with family members, while doing so in a safe and legal manner.

At least two dozen Hmong farmers were personally taken to State Fund Insurance Company by UCCE Fresno staff to obtain premium quotes. They also received help in filling out paperwork. Packets of the state and federal posters required on the farm for employees were compiled and distributed to more than 60 farmers.

By complying with the regulations, farmers can avoid costly fines. For as little as $460, they can purchase a simple workers' compensation policy to forestall the $1,000 per worker fine for not having a policy in place.

Clientele Testimonial

“Without the support provided by the UCCE, hundreds, if not thousands, of Hmong farmers would have been added to the victim list for not knowing or understanding the laws. The UCCE has gone many extra miles to fill gaps between enforcement agencies and the Hmong farming community.” - Toulu Thao, Hmong activist

"I didn't know where to go for help, but Richard Molinar and Michael Yang helped me with the labor and OSHA posters and what I need to do to be legal" - Pang Chang, farmer


Supporting Unit: Small Farm Program

- UC Cooperative Extension Fresno County
Richard Molinar & Michael Yang, (559) 456-7555, rhmolinar@ucdavis.edu