FIELD WORKERS: Orange County Growers Want To Offer Health Coverage
Faced with a tight labor market, the Orange County Agricultural Association hopes to retain qualified field workers by offering limited health insurance to workers starting Jan 1. Sunday's Orange County Register reported that the move comes as growers compete with other employers offering minimum wage jobs with health insurance. Increasingly, the Register reported, "Mexicans who arrive from over the border are discovering they can land ... jobs and receive health insurance." The growers association estimates that the insurance will cost $50 to $90 a month per family, and will cover only "the basics" -- hospital costs will still be covered by Medi-Cal. A.G. Kawamura, president of the Agricultural Association, said the coverage "should have come sooner." But he noted that "the cost of doing business in Orange County is high. Land is high. Health insurance is high. And we can't pass the price onto consumers, because growers from Mexico can always provide the product for less" (10/11). According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, the coverage will be offered to 3,000 to 4,000 workers, and the association hopes the policies will cover preventive care, cancer screenings, simple prescriptions, dentistry, health education, check-ups and vaccines for the workers' children.
The AP/Bee noted that fieldworkers, only 60% of whom have some sort of health care coverage, often "suffer from painful backaches from hours of stooping, ill effects from exposure to chemicals and chronic health problems that come with poverty." The workers often avoid seeking medical help if the illness "threatens to keep them from the work that supports their families." Dr. Arthur Nuval, who treats field workers, said, "They have priorities. The biggest is to feed their families. ... Their ailments come last." Kawamura said, "Do they deserve more than $5.80 an hour? Of course. Do they deserve health insurance? Of course. Any grower would give them those things if we could do it without going out of business" (10/12).