Workers in the growing fields of California toil at hard labor. Their wages are low and there are few benefits. But the work is regular full-time and available all year around.
Big labor contractors employ them. They work picking strawberries, cauliflower and peaches, among other crops. For the first time, in 2015, their employers will have to provide health insurance. There are plenty of differences of opinion about how much it will cost, who will pay and whether all the workers really want the coverage.
Experts say the insurance will cost about $1 dollar an hour for each worker. One said, “It is difficult when you have 1,000 workers who have never had health insurance before, to get an idea of what the cost will be.”
Labor contractors average about a 2 percent profit. They say they will have to pass the costs onto the growers. The final result will be higher prices for consumers.
Different businesses are also trying to figure out how to deal with health insurance. One way is to reduce work week hours for most workers to fewer than 30 hours a week. Or break their business into smaller companies. Some will create more part-time jobs.
Growers and contractors cannot do that. There is too much work to be done.
Not all farmworkers are convinced that health insurance would be good for them. They make $8 an hour and cannot afford to make any contribution. Contractors agree that you cannot ask them to pay part of the health insurance cost.
The minimum health care plan in California will cost about $250 a month. It includes a $5,000 deductible. A contractor said it makes no sense for many workers.
Added to the problem is the legal status of the workers. Many are undocumented. A contractor said, “They are really very nervous. They are afraid they will be tracked and fear being identified and deported. Or not being allowed to work.”
One thing is certain, there will be much more debate about the health insurance law.