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Sanitation workers agree to new contract with Republic Services, ending strike

 January 18, 2022 at 3:25 PM PST

Speaker 1: (00:00)

Sanitation workers reach an agreement with Republic

Speaker 2: (00:04)

Over the whole month. We've seen piles and piles of overflow in, uh, multiple areas of the county.

Speaker 1: (00:10)

I'm Jade Henman Mo Kavanaugh is off. This is K PBS midday edition. A new study confirms higher levels of cross-border sewage contamination. Some

Speaker 3: (00:29)

Of the bacteria that gets pushed up to Imperial beach is not detected in the county's water quality tests so people can get sick.

Speaker 1: (00:38)

We take a look at how national issues are impacted our local politics and the pandemic's impact on the Jewish holiday to be shot that's ahead on midday edition Trash collection services. We'll finally resume today following a month long strike that saw mountains of trash piling up in Chula Vista in parts of San Diego, an agreement between Republic services, waste haulers and their workers was reached yesterday. Only days after mayor Todd, Gloria threatened legal action against the company. Joining me with an overview on the strike is say, Diego union Tribune, reporter Tammy Marga, Tammy. Welcome. Thank

Speaker 2: (01:28)

You so much. I really appreciate for having me today, what

Speaker 1: (01:30)

Do we know about the deal that was reached between Republic services and its workers? Yeah, so

Speaker 2: (01:36)

It's been really a tough month of, you know, work stoppage on Monday, uh, deal was reached the specifics aren't available, but it seems that Republic services included what they said, hikes in wages and benefits and an unspecified new and significant financial incentives, uh, for workers to return. Uh, and some workers have said that that includes like a $1,000 bonus. So that's what we know so far. And the union workers said that it wasn't exactly what they have wanted, what they said. They just deserved, but enough for them to return to work, because they said they've understand the effects this has had on, on the communities and for

Speaker 1: (02:11)

People who don't live in the areas affected by the Republic services work stoppage. Can you give us an idea of how much trash has been piling up?

Speaker 2: (02:18)

Yes. I mean, you can imagine over the course of a whole month and really this started just before the holidays. So you have cardboard boxes, gift wrapping, you name it. If I can just give you kind of a number to quantify this just last week, the city of Chula Vista collected 10,000 pounds of trash. So think about that over the whole month. Uh, we've seen piles and piles of overflow in a multiple areas of the county

Speaker 1: (02:42)

And besides the city of Chula Vista, uh, what other areas and affected by the Republic strike

Speaker 2: (02:48)

In ULA Vista alone. You know, we have about 52, 50 4,000 customers, but there are also tens of thousands of customers in the city of San Diego, as well as unincorporated areas in the county.

Speaker 1: (03:00)

And what have residents been doing to cope? Well,

Speaker 2: (03:02)

Really, they haven't had many options. The waste hauler said they can take their trash to landfills, but many customers have said they don't have the means. Whether it's, you know, vehicle time, money to haul their own trash. They really just been doing what they can. And others have said, you know, not my job I've been paying throughout this whole month of the stoppage really trash has just been piling, but their options have been very limited.

Speaker 1: (03:26)

What's been the consequence of having this trash

Speaker 2: (03:28)

Pile up. Yeah. So, you know, we, we even saw footage. Uh, some customers were saying that they have rats in their alleys and many businesses that we spoke to too have had piles of trash in their hallways and their alleys. And they've even taken the trash inside their own homes. They themselves have been affected by it. So it's really been a health hazard. And we saw that or the city of ULA Vista declared a public health emergency due to these effects.

Speaker 1: (03:53)

And now I have to ask, so what exactly, uh, happens when a public health emergency is called

Speaker 2: (03:59)

Really, uh, shows to the community that the city is trying to take action here and they're really going to do what they can to set out workers. We saw that the city of Trioli Vista use their own public workers, and they even, uh, reached out to nonprofits to go out into the streets themselves and help with the overflow. So really is kind of this effort to between, you know, whoever they can get hands on to get to the streets and start doing the work themselves.

Speaker 1: (04:23)

So why were employees on strike in the first place? What were they asking for? And, and how did Republic respond? Workers

Speaker 2: (04:30)

Have really been, uh, asking for a better pay and benefits? You know, they, they said that living in, in San Diego county has been really expensive and really what they've been looking for just for that increase. And we can see that they were asking for an agreement similar to that, of what workers were able to reach in orange county, which was a $2 increase pay. And I believe it was a dollar increase per hour for four more years. So that's really what they've been asking for. And Republic, uh, has said that their offer is reasonable for the market here in San Diego county. So it's really been this back and forth. Um, I mean, all workers have also said that, you know, their job is among the most dangerous, um, and they've really been looking for better conditions, you know, improving even their conditions during the pandemic and also the equipment that they use. How

Speaker 1: (05:18)

Did the city deal with trash collection during the strike?

Speaker 2: (05:21)

Yeah. So cities really have been pushing for Republic services to see, you know, if there is work stoppage, what else can you do? So Republic has been sending out of area workers to pick up trash and they've really only been prioritizing trash. So the black bins, right? And for example, in Chula Vista Republic services is the only waste haul in that area. Uh, whereas in the city of San Diego, there are multiple service providers. So it's really been two different scenarios, but really cities have been kind of pushing on their end to get as many workers as possible during this time, you know, as we saw in ULA Vista, they even, uh, reached out to volunteers to kind of do what they, what Republic hasn't been able to do during this month.

Speaker 1: (06:03)

So what kind of legal action was mayor Todd, Gloria threatening against the company? If a deal

Speaker 2: (06:08)

Wasn't reached, you know, we saw a statement from him, uh, last week that he threatened to issue fines and even terminate the agreement. And he gave Reell services, a deadline of yesterday on Monday to meet it's obligations of, of his franchise agreement. And, you know, it sounds like the agreement was reached and he did actually applaud that settlement, but he said, you know, you really looks forward to Republic's resumption of a regular trash, uh, pickup. And also the mayor of Chula Vista. She said the same, this isn't

Speaker 1: (06:37)

The first time Republic services has been in hot water with San Diego. Uh, they recently got fined for failing to meet diversion rates. What's that about?

Speaker 2: (06:44)

Yeah. So November the city of San Diego, uh, was looking into its diversion rates and it said that, you know, it, it was failing to meet those rates and these, uh, diversion date rates, they calculate the amount of waste that's not sent to landfill. So the minimum in 2020 was 50%, but Republic services reported to the city of San Diego reaching about 25.9% of nearly 300,000 tons of waste. So the city find the boys holler one point 42 million, and it looks like Republic did pay that fine. And

Speaker 1: (07:15)

Last week, the city of Chula Vista sent out workers to pick up some of the trash, uh, which areas of the city did they begin with.

Speaker 2: (07:22)

Yeah. So the city manager, Maria catch Dorian had mentioned that areas where par complexes, you know, multi-family units have seen the biggest effect in terms of overflow. So these are the areas where the city has gone on for, as they prioritize these areas. And the city manager again said that these are areas lowest income, so that that's been their priority. And obviously not forgetting single family homes, but the focus has been so far these apartment buildings and multi-family complexes.

Speaker 1: (07:51)

All right, I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter Tammy Murga, Tammy. Thank you so much.

Speaker 2: (07:56)

Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: (08:08)

I surf hit the beaches last week, along with many local surfers, exposing some to potential raw sewage for years, surfers in the south bay have complained. They can smell and taste it in the water. Now, a new study by the Scripps institution of oceanography at UC San Diego confirms it raising alarms about the quality of the water along the border coastal region here to tell us more is KPBS investigative border reporter Gustavo Salise Gustavo. Welcome.

Speaker 3: (08:38)

Hello. Thank you for having me,

Speaker 1: (08:40)

Right. So what does this study tell us?

Speaker 3: (08:42)

Well, the study focused on an area called Punta Bandera, uh, which is where sewage from a nearby treatment plant is dumped directly into the Pacific ocean, just six miles south of the border. And the study tells us that polluted water from Punta bads is pushed north to Imperial beach and Coronado during strong Southwell events. South swells are when the water's coming from the south, pushing everything north. And the interesting part of the study is that some of the bacteria that gets pushed up to Imperial beach is, is not detected in the county's water quality test. So people can get sick from the water, even on sunny days when it hasn't rained and the county's tests show clean conditions.

Speaker 1: (09:25)

Hmm. So what has been the reaction of local surfers and other beach goers to the studies findings?

Speaker 3: (09:31)

Well, I think a lot of the surfers, uh, feel vindicated in a way, right? They they've been in the water for years and they've smelled, they've complained about smelling this like, uh, chemically, the Detert smell. Sometimes it just smells like feces even on, on days where it shouldn't right when it hasn't rained. And I think they all kind of know that this can happen, right? If you've ever been in the ocean and the current strong you, and at one point, and then the water pushes you north or south, depending on how far is traveling. So people kind of understand that the water works that way.

Speaker 1: (10:04)

Hmm. Do we have any idea of how many beach goers and surfers have gotten sick as a result of this sewage?

Speaker 3: (10:11)

There's no official count that I'm aware of in, in terms of how many people have gotten sick. I mean that anecdotally most surfers who surf there regularly over the years have gotten sick. I mean, the mayor of Imperial beach surf Dina has said, he's gotten two sinus surgeries, two ear surgeries because of pollution throughout his life. He's been surfing there since the seventies. And the study does say the, at that their malls show about just under 5% of people who are swimming in Imperial beach in the summer could get sick during Southwell right. It's important to remember this happens only when the water is floating north. If the water is going south, then the, obviously the pollution is pulled south and this type of pollution, isn't really a, a factor. So

Speaker 1: (10:57)

What types of illnesses have surfers been reporting? Well,

Speaker 3: (11:00)

The main one is, is a neurovirus, which, which is in the water. Uh, it is not fun to have. I mean, it causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain. It could also give you a fever. Uh, I've also spoken to surfers, uh, previous story surfing further south by the T1 slew, uh, that have gotten hepatitis a from, from being in the water.

Speaker 1: (11:21)

And can you talk about the topography? I mean, and remind us why cross border water contamination is such an issue in that area.

Speaker 3: (11:29)

The south part of San Diego county is just pretty flat, but when you cross the border and go into Tijuana, it's full of canyons, those canyons, whenever it rains all the, the pollution from, from those houses and in those factories. And Maquis, it gets flushed down the canyons into the Tijuana river. And that causes a lot of pollution. So like that's the main source in the winter time when it rains like this last December, we had record grains. Um, the other one is just the ocean, right? The water is dumped into the ocean. And when, when the current pushes it in our direction, there's really no avoiding it. Some of that gets diluted naturally with the rip currents and, and just water flows in the ocean. But the research shows that some of it makes it and not just to Imperial beach, right. In particularly strong Southwell events. It makes it to Coronado as well.

Speaker 1: (12:19)

You know, this issue is nothing new to the coastal border region. I mean, what needs to happen to address these problems? Yeah.

Speaker 3: (12:26)

Well, multiple things need to happen on all fronts, right in Imperial beach is the victim of, of geography really, right. There's multiple sources of pollution, right? One is the Tijuana river, which carries polluted water from Tijuana north of the border. And E emptys out just north of, of, uh, friendship park in the border by the Tijuana sleuth. So that's one source and that's particularly bad during rain events. So rain from the canyons of wanna will push it down into the river and all that stuff will go, uh, flush out naturally into the, the ocean by the river. The other one is obviously Punta Banderas, which is this, uh, uh, where water from this treatment plant is just dumped into the ocean. So you have to address it from multiple angles, but at the end of the day, it's an issue of infrastructure. And then to be Frank Tijuana and Baca, California, and the federal government of Mexico have just done a real poor job of, of investing in infrastructure and keeping up with growth, right? Tijuana almost has 2 million people living in there now, but their infrastructure is crumbling as a result of that, that pressure.

Speaker 1: (13:31)

And it seems like no one wants to take responsibility. So how would you plan cross border cooperation on this issue today? Uh, is it working as well as it needs to,

Speaker 3: (13:40)

I would say, um, that it's working better than it has before. Um, although the bar has kind of been low, right. For a long time, Imperial beach would complain that that Mexican officials would not even acknowledge that there were problems because doing so would, would kind know, mean somebody was at fault, right? So they would just kind of do like a out of sight out mind type of thing. But there have been more collaboration now recently in the last couple of years, particularly with binational organizations like the I B w C, which is the international boundary and water commission, and even the north American development bank, uh, which fund projects, development projects on both sides of the border, there has been more coordination through those venues. So

Speaker 1: (14:22)

Will this study have an impact on beach closures in and around Imperial beach? I mean, can we expect more closures after this report? That that's

Speaker 3: (14:31)

A little hard to say the county has been briefed on, on the reports findings, and to be clear, one is criticizing the county for how they do testing or not doing enough testing. The problem is that they'd have to change the way they do testing, right? It's relatively easy to test for what they're testing now, which are like the fecal indicators like E coli. But the, the issue with them is that those particles die pretty quickly when they're exposed to the sun. So if, if they're drifting up along the coast for, for 10 miles, they're gonna die before they get to Imperial beach. But the other particles that cause a virus is those survive the journey. And those don't show up on the county's test. The issue is that thing for those particles that do survive require special equipment. And it, it is a lot more expensive. It's also important to mention that EPA scientists worked on this report and this research. So, so they're aware of the findings and the hope is that this report guides some of the long term solutions that, uh, will determine how the EPA, the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been allocated to fix this issue.

Speaker 1: (15:35)

I have been speaking with KPBS, investigative border reporter, Gustavo Salli Gustavo. Thank you very much.

Speaker 3: (15:41)

Hey, thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: (15:50)

You're listening to KPBS midday. I'm Jade Henman, there's the old adage that all politics is local, but increasingly the San Diego county board of supervisors and local city councils are holding votes on national issues. K PBS reporter Claire trier explains how they reflect our intensely partisan times. You're

Speaker 4: (16:12)

Welcome to in the chambers. If you conduct yourself, if you're not, you will be removed.

Speaker 5: (16:15)

Thank you very much. In September last year, the county supervisors listened to almost three hours of public comment. The issue at hand, abortion rights, supervisor Nora Vargas made the proposal. That's why it's

Speaker 4: (16:28)

Important that all San Diego know that San Diego county is a champion for reproductive freedom. Let's be clear.

Speaker 5: (16:37)

The vote was one of several in recent times on national issues that don't have a direct impact on local governance of the county. In April, the supervisors voted to support state and federal gun control legislation in November to support a ban on offshore or oil drilling. These are very much partisan issues and the board's democratic majority chose them for a reason. Usually the two Republicans on the board, Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson were either absent or voted. No, the votes are likely done with an eye on future elections says Thad cower a politics for professor at UC San Diego that

Speaker 6: (17:16)

Are designed to set up campaign mailers and TV ads in the next election. And, and, and part of the job as a politician is being able to, to take a stand and explain that stand to your constituents.

Speaker 5: (17:28)

Such tactics are nothing new. The Berkeley city council once voted on nuclear disarmament and in support of human rights in Myanmar, hardly issues. A city government has any jurisdiction over, but they become increasingly common in San Diego county, not just at the board of supervisors, but local city councils too. KSR says, while these votes might be obvious political ploys, there are benefits to them. For one, they tend to increase engagement in local politics. What

Speaker 6: (17:59)

We often worry about is a democratic deficit where we're county supervisors, local, uh, city council members, school, board members, people don't know who they are. Don't know what positions they're taking and don't know whether they reflect their values.

Speaker 5: (18:12)

He says problems only arise if the votes happen so often that they interfere with the other business of the border council, Republican San Diego, Councilman Chris Kate says, that's exactly what has been happening. The council began taking votes on several issues from transgender bathrooms to sanctuary state laws. I

Speaker 7: (18:33)

Just said, I was not elected to do this. I don't have time to read and see all the debates of regarding Senate bills or court cases and the nuances of them all. And so I just took a really across the board position of I'm just not gonna vote

Speaker 5: (18:52)

On them. Kate chases at what he sees as petty politics and says the votes don't resonate in Washington, DC, where something could actually be done about them.

Speaker 7: (19:02)

No one's ever, I don't think called us and said, boy, the city of San Diego's letter on this issue really moved the day and moved the needle on this top being debated in DC. I mean, I, I've never gotten that phone call. I've heard that,

Speaker 5: (19:14)

But local leaders should take a stand on national issues because here and elsewhere, basic civil liberties like voting rights, LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights are under attack. So says will Rodriguez's Kennedy chairman of the San Diego county de party.

Speaker 7: (19:31)

It's important that people in, in democratic states or just plain states that respect human and civil rights, uh, do things to sort of count about on sat national narrative.

Speaker 5: (19:44)

He says, holding these votes informs the public on the issues they care about.

Speaker 7: (19:49)

The public should know who's in power and what their ideology and their values are. And if their values do not match with their, their own personal values, the values of, of families throughout San Diego, what they discuss at the kitchen table, then they should not elect them. Kate

Speaker 5: (20:05)

Says that has not been his experience

Speaker 7: (20:07)

That has never come up, has never been a priority for, for residents or someone went outta their way to ask me, you know, what's your position on, on this federal issue? It's when are we gonna fix my street? Why is my water bill? So high Claire

Speaker 5: (20:20)

Trier, KPBS news,

Speaker 1: (20:29)

A trip to the grocery store recently is looking a lot like the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, where some shelves are empty and our favorite products are out of stock. But why are we seeing this happen a second time around nearly two years later and not only are shelves empty, but we are also seeing an increase in some food prices as well. Joining me to talk about the current supply chain shortages and why there's a spike in food prices is SDSU business lecture, Miro KOIC Miro. Welcome.

Speaker 8: (20:58)

Thank you, Jade. So why

Speaker 1: (21:00)

Do you think we're seeing empty shelves at grocery stores a second time around?

Speaker 8: (21:04)

Well, there are a lot of factors, uh, that are contributing to this, especially now. So the supply chain disruptions that kind of started this summer, that carried over through the holiday shopping period are still with us, obviously in the winter, winter weather is not good. Um, and we're seeing a lot of disruptive storms, not just in the United States, but in countries around the world that grow important crop like coffee. Uh, so coffee prices, for example, might be increased substantially. The Amron variant of the coronavirus has been devastating, uh, not only for the sheer numbers, but because it requires people to be absent, whether on food production lines or at the grocery store. So it really strains that the labor pool clearly the labor shortages due to the great resignation has been a, a factor in hollowing out employees at the supermarket level, in the supermarkets, which used to provide a pretty good standard of living for a lot of, um, individuals as they're unionized, uh, are, are becoming a little more of a challenging place to work and make ends meet and higher a cost market. So all of that combined means there's less food and fewer workers in stores and fewer truckers delivering product to the stores. We know

Speaker 1: (22:17)

Meat, poultry, and eggs. They're up by 12.5%. How does the current supply shortage play a role in inflation?

Speaker 8: (22:25)

Well, I think the, the bigger issue is, you know, it's always a question of supply and demand. What we saw is that Americans, uh, for the last two years had been eating at home a lot more, which puts a lot of strain on the supply chain. So for example, you know, the average weekly grocery bill in 2019 was about $114. It was $160 during the first year of the pandemic. And it was over a $45 last year, a little bit less than the first year of the pandemic, where more people just stayed home, but still it's a 27% increase in the amount of groceries people are buying. And if you have supply chain disruptions, that means those shelves become bare much faster. You know, on average, most grocery stores have an outta stock on items that can range from five to 10%, 10%, if they're not well managed 5%, if they're fairly well managed.

Speaker 8: (23:17)

So when consumers walk into a store, most of the shelves look full, but now that outta stock ratio is over 15%, which in some cases it seems like a lot of shelves are empty and, and it's not a good look for the grow, uh, chain and, and consumers. Then there's a whole issue of psychology around, well, if things are missing, I need to buy more things so I can store them for the future, especially non-perishables. So that becomes a major issue. And so that means also that when there's less product available, groceries can charge more because, you know, consumers will pay a premium for what is available, uh, whether it's meat or, or poultry or eggs, which, you know, rose faster than the inflation rate. Um, in 2021,

Speaker 1: (24:00)

California Senate bill 7 87, went into effect the first of this year, which requires pigs, calves and HNS raise for food to have room to move and lay down at farms. They gotta be free range. You know, the law bands, the sale of products from facilities that don't meet the guidelines, has this law played a role in the food supply shortage we're seeing now

Speaker 8: (24:21)

It will play a bit of a role, not a huge role because, you know, depending on the farm, if they can export that product to states that don't require the same constraints, it might create short term constraints in the state of California. I think a lot of farmers have been moving to anticipate the need for the requirements that this bill put on, on farmers. Um, so, you know, are they a hundred percent there? No. Will it impact grocery prices in the short term? Yes. And, and it's unfortunate because, um, it has a, you know, good intent, uh, the timing with everything else that's going on, uh, just is a bad time. And so we may see in California, some of these prices a little bit higher for probably a few weeks longer than they'll start to calm down in the, the rest of the country.

Speaker 1: (25:07)

How have labor shortages affected food supplies at grocery stores?

Speaker 8: (25:11)

Labor shortages have been interesting. You know, there's three sectors that have really not recovered since the pandemic. Most other sectors are within a couple of percent of where they were from an employment perspective, hospitality, which is the worst sector at the moment, which includes restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail, and trucking are the two other sectors that are behind. So in the retail sector, five to 7% below where we were pre pandemic, which includes grocery stores, truckers, a lot of truckers are kind of baby boomers or gen X. They're a little bit older. There's a lot that have early. And that combination has really put a strain on grocery chain. So for example, in some parts of the country, grocery chains are operating with as few as 50% of the workers that they normally have. And because of the coronavirus in particular, you know, the absentee level at a grocery store tends to be somewhere in the two to 3% range on average normally. But right now we're, it's pushing seven to 10% or more depending if there's a, you know, particular outbreak in a specific store. That means that there's fewer people to stock the shelves. So sometimes there may be inventory in the store. It's just not enough people to be able to bring that on the shelves and merchandise it, so it could be sold to consumers. So labor shortages combined with weather combined with the virus have really kind of reached havoc on, on the supermarkets. When do you think

Speaker 1: (26:39)

Stores will go back to being fully stocked or at least more stocked?

Speaker 8: (26:43)

I think as the virus kind of, uh, plateaus, a couple things are gonna happen, you know, fewer people will be sick. So that means getting the, the employee base in the store becomes important to have fully stocked shells. I think manufacturers in some key areas, you know, are ramping up production and they will, you know, meet them demand relatively quickly. Most, you know, consumer products companies, uh, we sell products in the grocery stores have taken price increases in the last year of anywhere from three to 5%. And you know, they're eager not to hurt their brands by their brands being outta stock. So I think that fundamentally, what we're gonna see is we're gonna start seeing the market coming back to normal outta level sometime toward the end of February as the more harsh winter storms start to decline. And then, uh, we'll see it probably in California, uh, sometime in the late first quarter into second quarter, uh, where we should at least see more full shelves and maybe a, a plant towing of the price increase,

Speaker 1: (27:44)

Right? I've been speaking with SDSU business lecture, MI COIC mural. Thank you so much.

Speaker 8: (27:50)

Thanks Jane. Have a great day

Speaker 1: (28:04)

For the first time starting this year's state law will require farmers with more than 26 employees to pay their workers overtime. After eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, while farm worker advocates are celebrating this change valley public radios mad Beunos reports that it's also created some unintended cut consequences.

Speaker 5: (28:26)

Lower has worked in the fields in the San Joaquin valley for two decades. In the past, she says she would sometimes work up to 10 extra hours a day without getting paid overtime. Sometimes that meant having to pay babysitters for the extra time she spent in the fields. She says that would stretch their paychecks. Sometimes making it harder to pay the rent or buy groceries. She says they are workers like everyone else, but they weren't valued like the others until now. Eddie Beto Fernandez with the United farm worker foundation says farm workers have been excluded from overtime benefits since the fair labor standard act of 1938

Speaker 9: (29:16)

Back then agricultural workers were mostly African American workers and they were excluded from the new deal. It's now Mexican American farm farm workers that are mostly picking our fruits and vegetables and the same rule, you know, continued this injustice

Speaker 5: (29:33)

Continued. He says, it's taken 80 years to expand these benefits to farm workers.

Speaker 9: (29:39)

It's very historic andous occasion for farm workers that they now in the first time in the history of agricultural labor, they have the same rights as all other Californians do.

Speaker 5: (29:50)

And he says farm workers will be able to spend more time with their families before this law farm workers usually work 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week. But Ryan Jacobson with the Fresno county farm bureau says these new requirements will push many farmers to limit workers' shifts to eight hours a day or 40 hours a week to avoid paying the overtime. And Jacobson says, it's not just farmers who could benefit from these longer weeks. There are seasons when working longer hours, some parts of year makeup for the other times

Speaker 10: (30:23)

When they aren't able to work, because there's not as much availability of farm agricultural work than there is

Speaker 5: (30:28)

At other times, he says, since the passage of this log growers have started replacing some of their more manual labor crops like citrus fruit with mechanized crops, like nuts Back at Lord. This house in Fresno, her partner Vega is just coming home from a day in the fields, trimming almond and pistachio trees. He says, he's worried about these new changes. He used to work six days a week, but he says, now his employer isn't allowing it. It

Speaker 11: (31:00)

Is Mar because

Speaker 5: (31:06)

He says it's bad. They're only giving them 40 hours and it's just not sufficient. He says he might take on a second job on Saturdays to make up for the lost income. But is optimistic. That comes spring. Farmers will have to pay farm workers overtime, or they won, be able to complete their harvest. I'm in Fresno.

Speaker 1: (31:36)

You're listening to KPBS midday edition. I'm Jade Henman this past weekend was the Jewish holiday to Bevan a time to gather around food and honor trees and the harvest for her series, California, food ways. Reporter Lisa Moorehouse has been visiting the mother loan Jewish community in rural Toney county. She first met up with them back in February of 2020 to record their Tobi hot celebration. Nobody knew back then that just weeks later, the pandemic would stop many in-person gatherings like these and create the kinds of tensions that so many communities are dealing with these days.

Speaker 12: (32:18)

Listen to this recording. I made almost two years ago. Doesn't it sound so innocent. 20 people meeting at a house in the town of Sonora, no masks, no tests, people hugging without hesitation. There's more

Speaker 13: (32:33)

Room for people to sit. Please come on in and be part of the

Speaker 12: (32:37)

Community. It, a few nudges from rabbi Andre green wall to get them to stop catching up and settle in there,

Speaker 13: (32:45)

Places over there. Good morning, and, and welcome to our twoish VAT celebration. Thank you for being here to celebrate this exciting birthday. The birthday of trees,

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It's like a Jewish Arbor

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Day. We pay homage to trees to ensure that there will be forests for our children and for our grandchildren. And I finally have a grandson, so the trees will be there for him, but I'm not prouder. Anything

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Whose valley the closest synagogues are in Stockton and modest over an hour away. So more than 30 years ago, a few families nearby organized the Motherload Jewish community. Now membership includes more than a hundred people from four counties. Rabbi Andre comes from Modesto for some holidays and services.

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And it's been said that the act of planting a tree is in an of itself an act faith. We never really know do we, whether we'll have sun or rain, we just have faith.

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Rabbi Andre explains that they'll celebrate by holding a type of service. A Sader that includes eating fruits and nuts, indigenous to the holy land.

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In Deuteronomy, we read for Ana, your God is bringing you into a good

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Land and everyone prepares plates of water with nuts and crackers, olives, and pomegranate seeds and glasses with wine or grape juice, a land of

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Wheat and barley and vines and victories and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land we're in. You shall eat that scarceness you shall not lack anything in it. Okay. We're starting with white. I'm liking to good shot.

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One of the people pouring drinks is Jo Lynn Miller. She moved to the county nearly 10 years ago and went to the annual all meeting a pool party pretty soon afterwards. And

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They just, just adopted me into their group, into their family very quickly. She

Speaker 12: (34:48)

Started attending monthly gatherings. Jolyn grew up in Southern California, Jewish by family tradition. Jish she says, but here she's become more connected to Judaism. Today is a good example. Before the mother low Jewish community, she'd never celebrated twoish fat.

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It's not a holiday that secular Jews, at least that I knew celebrated

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Because Joly works in agriculture with kids in four H

Speaker 14: (35:18)

Really for me connects just the, the sick nature of life. Um, along with the Jewish calendar, along with the agricultural world, it has turned out to be one of my new kind of favorite holidays bar

Speaker 13: (35:46)

For our first fruits. We're going to taste either walnuts, almonds, or both. We eat fruit that is hard on the outside and softer on the inside symbolizing, the protection that the earth provides for each of us. And it also reminds us to nourish the strength and the healing powers of our own bodies.

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And afterwards, the members of the mother lo Jewish community do what they always do. Have a potluck.

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People do obsess a little bit about food. Do you have enough? Is there enough? Is it gonna be enough food?

Speaker 12: (36:22)

That's got slower? She says, there's always way too much. But that tracks when she's on the phone with her mom in Israel, she's like,

Speaker 15: (36:31)

I can tell you're not eating really well. Like on the phone. It's crazy

Speaker 12: (36:35)

On a serious note, God says, she thinks this concern is tied to survival. You know, our people

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Have been through, uh, a lot of persecution, hunger, that kind of thing from many generations ago, but it carries down. So

Speaker 12: (36:51)

Got moved to Sonora from the bay area where there's a much larger Jewish community. I but Jews have been here since the gold rush. Okay. Slide in from here. I'm at the gate of 170 year old cemetery on a quiet block next to the Sheriff's station. Okay. I'm pat Perry, the historian for the city of Sonora. We're down here a little ways. Pat showing me around the pioneer Jewish cemetery. There's a five foot at tall rock wall and towering, Cypress trees and gravestones honoring the mock family. And the bears pat says the first Jewish people arrived here in 1849. Most at that time were single men fleeing persecution and restrictions in Germany, France, Poland, and later Russia. Lot of 'em came like to New York. First hearing of the gold rush. Christy came to California. Most came to be merchants rather than minors. A community of over a hundred people developed in Tumi county for Jolen Miller. This cemetery provides a link between the Jewish communities of the gold rush. And today on occasion,

Speaker 14: (37:56)

I've, um, gone by myself and just sat in the Jewish cemetery and just kind of soaked it up or read the headstones. And it's like a very much connecting to the place and to, to my heritage, just sitting

Speaker 12: (38:09)

There, it's where she went after her dad died.

Speaker 14: (38:12)

There's a connection that I can't explain to her neighbor.

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You guys have for planting

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A tree back at the Tobi spot, gathering every one bundles up to go outside in the cold to plant a cherry tree. Do you

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Wanting Andy? No. Thank you

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From, I don't remember all the words. One woman remembers a song about the holiday for every fruit and every tree

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Twoish mob is here, the Jewish Harbor

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Day, and that inspires others to sing. And in this moment I'm seeing what makes this group in the foothills special Scott, the woman who moved here from the bay area.

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And I really like the diversity and the freedom. They're younger people and older folks,

Speaker 12: (39:01)

Political conservatives liberals.

Speaker 15: (39:04)

Also, there are people that are very observant and people that are not at all

Speaker 12: (39:07)

Submarine, Jews who surface at Passover and the Jewish

Speaker 15: (39:11)

New year. It's a lot of interfaith couples. It feels like we cherish hard time together, even though we're all very different, but it feels like they're kind of my gang, my people

Speaker 12: (39:22)

That was almost two years ago. So I decided to go back and check in on the mother load Jewish community. I find that like with so many families and groups across California and the country, the COVID pandemic has tested their connection. I meet Jill Miller at her home where I'm greeted by chickens. We

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Have goats down there. We have a horse and a donkey

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Baby and a Chihuahua named Carmen. The last time we saw each other at the Tubby spot, Seder was the group's last in person gathering. We had

Speaker 14: (39:59)

No clue what was gonna happen just a month later. Huh? I, um, I'm sad. I think I'm gonna cry. They've

Speaker 12: (40:08)

Been on zoom ever since despite the poor internet connectivity in some of this area and the steep learning curve for some of the older members, zoom gatherings actually had a surprising benefit for Jolyn who fell in love early in the pandemic.

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My boyfriend is religious and he's Christian

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Getting to know each other meant getting to know those differences

Speaker 14: (40:30)

In a time when I never would've driven an hour to go to synagogue in Stockton or Modesta, we for months and months, every Friday would do Shabbat services virtually. And then on Sunday we would do church services for somebody who has been Jewish all my life. This was the most regular I'd ever been in services,

Speaker 12: (40:54)

But comparing zoom with in-person gatherings,

Speaker 14: (40:59)

We try, it's not the same. We try to add a few like 15 minutes before the quote unquote program starts for schmoozing.

Speaker 12: (41:07)

They added a book club and for Hanukah,

Speaker 14: (41:10)

We tried to play some games. We tried to do, you know, a, a scavenger hunt.

Speaker 12: (41:15)

Other religious and civic groups have met in person at different stages of the pandemic. The mother low Jewish community has stayed on zoom. They have a lot of older members and people who are immunocompromised, some members rush to get vaccines and boosters and a number have chosen not to be vaccinated. And that's really common for this area. About 50% of Alami county residents are fully vaccinated compared with over 70% of Californians. So with members, not all agreeing on COVID will a group be able to retain its family, like feel Jolin Miller.

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I'm scared for the unknown because it is a family. How do we move forward? Trying to be respectful of everybody, knowing that the way that this is all turned out is so polarizing.

Speaker 15: (42:13)

Yes, you are here. You made it. I made it the chickens paychecks

Speaker 12: (42:18)

It's okay. Chicks. When I get to got's house, she feeds her chickens. She's been showing up to zoom functions and says, she's learned something from remote holidays, like for

Speaker 15: (42:29)

Passover in the past, I'd be like, well, I'll buy a box of Mo and I'm good. This time I kind of had to be responsible. I made my own chicken soup. So that was really cool. I had to kind of grow up and not expect the community to feed me and do all this stuff.

Speaker 12: (42:44)

But for a while now she's wanted the mother lo Jewish community to start meeting in person and not just stay on zoom. I think

Speaker 15: (42:52)

People have just, I think it's fear. I'll be honest with you. People are concerned. They feel very vulnerable. And I get that. I totally get that. I'm not trying to minimize that. Some of us have been frustrated, like, okay, it's time. Let's do it.

Speaker 12: (43:07)

She's on the board, but was outvoted about in person meetings.

Speaker 15: (43:11)

So some of us have met, but it hasn't been official. So, so that part, it's a little tricky. I don't like to being divided. We're already divided by different things, but, and we still love each other,

Speaker 12: (43:21)

But the pandemic stirred up emotions, including hers at

Speaker 15: (43:25)

The beginning, I was very confrontational and angry about certain things and blaming and judgmental. And then I really got that. None of us I think are purposely trying to someone else. We're not gonna agree on all that, but I hope that we can forgive each other. Right.

Speaker 12: (43:42)

Maybe it would do us all good to think about something. Rabbi Andre said at the twoish spot gathering nearly two years ago, we

Speaker 13: (43:49)

Are each of us rooted as are the trees. But the question we might wanna keep in the back where the forefront of our minds is how far is each of us willing to stretch our own limbs so that we can be the very best that we can be. So something that we'll think about as we celebrate, eat, and plant

Speaker 12: (44:10)

For this year's to be spot holiday members of the mother, low Jewish community will be meeting remotely, pouring their own wine and juice, eating fruits, and nuts, loaded with symbolism from their own homes together. Apart

Speaker 15: (44:25)

That piece was reported by Lisa Moorehouse for her California food way series.

Speaker 17: (44:36)


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Trash collection services resume today, following a month-long strike that saw mountains of trash piling up in Chula Vista and other parts of San Diego. Plus, a new study by Scripps Institution of Oceanography is raising the alarm about water pollution along the border coastal region. Next, why the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and local city councils hold votes on national issues that don’t always have a direct impact on local governance. After, KPBS talks to SDSU lecturer Miro Copic about grocery store shortages and the spike in food prices. Later, the unintended consequences of a state law that requires farmers with more than 26 employees to pay their workers overtime after eight hours a day, or 40 hours a week. Finally, two years later, reporter Lisa Morehouse revisits rural Tuolumne County for Tu Bishvat to see the impact of the pandemic on community gatherings like the one held for the Jewish holiday.