California Governor Signs Farmworker Overtime-Pay Bill

by on September 13, 2016 · 0 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Economy, Health, History, Labor, Organizing, Politics

farmworker-handsBy Melody Gutierrez / SFGate / September 12, 2016

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday that will give farmworkers in California overtime after an eight-hour day, a move advocates say will right a decades-old injustice.

The bill, AB1066 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, will give the people who work in California’s farm fields the same overtime rights that other workers were granted under federal law during the Great Depression. Gonzalez called it a “historic day” that was long overdue.

“These workers are doing backbreaking work so that we can eat,” Gonzalez said. “The fact is, they are not treated fairly under the law and that’s wrong. This is a 78-year-old wrong, and there is nothing better than fixing that.”

The agriculture industry, business groups and Republican lawmakers said the bill will hurt farmers, who are already facing rising payrolls through the state’s minimum wage increase and are suffering the economic effects of years of drought.

Under current law, farmworkers receive time-and-a-half pay only after a 10-hour shift or 60-hour workweek. AB1066 will gradually move that threshold down.

Beginning in 2019, farmworkers will receive time and a half after 9½ hours in a day or 55 hours in a week. The daily threshold will decrease by a half hour each year until 2022, when farmworkers will receive overtime for working more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

Smaller farms will have more time to comply with the law, with the first phase-in beginning in 2022. The eight-hour threshold for such farms will come in 2025.

Brown signed the bill without comment. The legislation was sponsored by the United Farm Workers union.

Under the bill, the governor can temporarily suspend the phase-in of overtime if the scheduled minimum-wage increase is also suspended amid an economic downturn. After 2025, however, the governor will no longer be able freeze the overtime requirement.

Farmworkers were excluded from wage protections and hour standards in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Gonzalez’s proposal nearly died when the Assembly killed a similar bill of hers in June, but she revived the plan as AB1066, and the Senate and Assembly narrowly passed it before adjourning Aug. 31.

Brown had not indicated in advance whether he would sign the bill, but advocates were confident of his support.

“Gov. Brown has a long history of understanding the plight of farmworkers and what goes on in the field,” said Jim Araby, executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, which represents 2,500 agriculture workers in the state. “He understands despite the heavy lobbying from the agriculture industry, that this would not be a big loss for them. It’s a $54 billion industry in California that is doing well.”

Opponents of the bill said the added cost would hurt farmers and lead to decreased hours for workers. Critics said that to deal with the mandate, farmers will hire workers in shorter shifts, which will mean less money for workers.

“It’s the piling-on effect that is just killing business and industry in this state,” said Tom Scott, state executive director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents 22,000 small businesses in California, including farmers. “Whether it’s medical leave, sick leave, paid leave, minimum wage, overtime, all of the regulations that the small-business owner has to deal with to comply in California, it’s the piling-on effect that strangles businesses. All in the a name of executing a political agenda.”

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