Legal Protections and Resources for Migrant Workers

by | Oct 16, 2023 | General Issues, Wage & Hour

migrant workers in a field


Migrant workers in the Central Valley are particularly vulnerable to coercive control and other forms of exploitation. This post lists the existing labor laws and resources to protect the rights of these workers.

Existing Labor Laws

Federal labor laws that protect migrant workers include:

  • The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act of 1983 (“MSPA”) sets employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures, and recordkeeping. Among other obligations, the law requires covered employers, when using farm labor contractors to recruit, supervise, or transport farmworkers, to disclose terms of employment at the time of recruitment and comply with those terms. Under the MSPA, employer-provided housing must meet local and federal housing standards, and vehicles used to transport agricultural workers must be insured and meet basic federal safety standards. This law also requires farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”);
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”) sets minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping, and child labor standards. Although almost all employees engaged in agriculture are covered by this law, employees who are employed in agriculture are exempt from the overtime pay provisions. Certain agricultural employees are also not covered by the FLSA’s minimum wage provisions. See here for more information; and
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSH Act”) requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known hazards and to comply with all health and safety standards set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). See here for more information on how the OSHA is authorized to protect immigrant workers.

California laws that protect migrant workers include:

  • The Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) requires employers to notify employees when federal immigration enforcement agents request access to, or a review of, employee records, subject to certain specified exceptions. This law bars employers from voluntarily consenting to federal immigration agents’ request for access to a worksite without a warrant from a judge. It also mandates that employers comply with specific notice requirements to employees if the employer receives notice from an immigration agency of an upcoming inspection of the federal I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Forms or other employment records. This law further prohibits employers from reverifying the employment eligibility of any current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal immigration law;
  • AB 263, as amended by SB 666, prohibits employers from retaliating – by using threats related to the immigration or citizenship status of an employee or family member – against employees who have exercised any right protected under state labor and employment laws or a local ordinance;
  • SB 477 requires international labor recruiters to register with the state prior to bringing workers to California. Because SB 477 has been limited to the federal H-2B visa program, AB 364 expanded the reach of SB 477 to cover nearly all temporary work visa programs, including those for agricultural workers;
  • In 2016, AB 1066 removed the exemption for agricultural employees in California’s then-existing labor laws regarding hours, meal breaks, and other working conditions, including specified minimum wage requirements and overtime pay; and
  • Although agricultural workers are not covered by the federal National Labor Relations Act, California was the first of several U.S. states to guarantee collective bargaining rights for farmworkers via the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 (“CALRA”).

Local city and county laws may provide even greater protections. Check with the applicable city or county offices for these requirements.

    Seeking Legal Representation

    Workers subject to exploitation should seek help from a qualified attorney who knows the laws applicable to their situation. Legal counsel can help you understand your rights, available options, and advise you on gathering the necessary documents and witnesses to support your claim. A lawyer can also protect your rights by negotiating with employers and other entities, and when necessary, the attorney may also represent you in court. If your coworkers and other employees are experiencing the same issue(s), a lawyer may help put together a class action lawsuit where warranted.

    Since 2001, the attorneys from Rothschild & Alwill, APC have dedicated themselves to employees mistreated at work. Our experienced labor and employment lawyers can advise you on any potential legal claims. You deserve sound judgment, hard work, skilled representation, and to be treated with dignity during every step of the process.

    Email us or call or office in our Central Valley office in Bakersfield at (661-369-8510) or in Santa Barbara at (805-845-1190) to schedule an initial confidential consultation at no charge. Se habla Español.


    Community and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

    Workers’ rights groups in Central Valley may also be helpful. They include the Central Valley Workers’ Rights Project, the Center for Workers Rights (Sacramento), Central Valley Empowerment Alliance, Inc., and the Central Valley Opportunity Center.

    Organizations such as these provide community outreach and education, self-help tools, advocacy for initiatives to advance workers’ rights, legal consultations and representation before state agencies, advocacy for affordable housing, assistance in translation, application assistance in applying for social services, transportation, and assistance with utilities.

    Local government organizations such as the Merced County Housing Authority, and the Kern County Housing Authority provide housing for migrant workers.


    Migrant workers – upon whom our food system depends – deserve to fully participate in our nation’s economic and democratic freedoms and benefits. Moreover, mistreatment of these workers puts undue burdens on public assistance programs, which costs taxpayers money. Allowing mistreatment of migrant workers allows employers who do not treat their workers with respect and dignity an unfair competitive advantage over those who do. Therefore, it is vital to support migrant workers, raise awareness about the rights and challenges of migrant workers, and ensure their dignity, safety, and well-being.

    Further Resources

    Other resources for workers in Central Valley not discussed above include:

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