California Farmworkers Win Equal Overtime: “This Bill Corrects 78 Years of Discrimination”

Mario Vasquez

Nationwide, almost all farmworkers are exempt from overtime thresholds thanks to agricultural worker exemptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. (United Farm Workers/ Twitter)

Cal­i­for­nia just approved the strongest over­time pay leg­is­la­tion in the nation for farm­work­ers, long exempt from over­time stan­dards man­dat­ed for most oth­er occupations.

The leg­is­la­tion, known as AB 1066, was signed into law this week by Gov. Jer­ry Brown and will even­tu­al­ly result in time-and-a-half pay for farm­work­ers who work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

This bill cor­rects 78 years of dis­crim­i­na­tion, not just in the state but in the coun­try,” says Juan Gar­cia, an inter­nal coor­di­na­tor with the Unit­ed Farm Work­ers (UFW). Most of the peo­ple that I’ve talked to here in Sono­ma that have worked 30, some­times 40 years — they’ve been wait­ing for some­thing like this.”

Nation­wide, almost all farm­work­ers are exempt from over­time thresh­olds thanks to agri­cul­tur­al work­er exemp­tions in the Fair Labor Stan­dards Act of 1938. The law exclud­ed farm­work­ers in order to appease Dix­ie­crat lead­ers who object­ed to min­i­mum wage and over­time fed­er­al stan­dards for the most­ly black farm­work­ers of the time.

While Cal­i­for­nia even­tu­al­ly estab­lished over­time pay in 1976 for farm­work­ers who work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week, AB 1066 author Assem­bly­woman Lore­na Gon­za­lez (D‑San Diego) says the exist­ing pro­tec­tions were not enough.

Even though we’ve brought them up fur­ther in Cal­i­for­nia than oth­er states have, they still weren’t on equal foot­ing and were viewed dif­fer­ent­ly under labor laws, so I thought it was extreme­ly impor­tant (to intro­duce AB 1066) because these are some of the hard­est work­ing folks in Cal­i­for­nia, under some of the hard­est con­di­tions,” Gon­za­lez tells In These Times.

Under AB 1066, the state will reduce the over­time thresh­old by half an hour every year, start­ing in 2019, until it reach­es the 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week stan­dard in 2022. AB 1066 affects the rough­ly 800,000 farm­work­ers in Cal­i­for­nia, one-third of all agri­cul­tur­al labor­ers in the coun­try accord­ing to 2014 esti­mates by Philip Mar­tin, pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­tur­al eco­nom­ics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis. These work­ers earn, on aver­age, between $16,500 and $19,000 a year, accord­ing to Mar­tin and oth­er researchers at UC Davis. When employed by farm labor con­trac­tors, instead of grow­ers direct­ly, farm­work­ers, on aver­age, earn even less — an esti­mat­ed $12,719 per year. The Cal­i­for­nia Research Bureau reports that approx­i­mate­ly 30 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia house­holds with farm labor­er incomes are below the pover­ty line.

More­over, the share of undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers per­form­ing farm labor in the state is so high (Martin’s 2014 esti­mates put it at 67 per­cent), that enforce­ment of over­time pay takes an addi­tion­al bur­den” accord­ing Kent Wong, direc­tor the Labor Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Angeles.

The unfor­tu­nate real­i­ty is that in the research that we have con­duct­ed, with regards to wage theft, it is very com­mon for employ­ers of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant work­ers to take advan­tage of these work­ers, giv­en their pre­car­i­ous sta­tus, and to not respect the law,” Wong tells In These Times.

In the days lead­ing up to AB 1066’s pas­sage, UFW, the bill’s co-spon­sor, orga­nized emo­tion­al demon­stra­tions by farm­work­ers in Sacra­men­to, the meet­ing place of the state legislature.

They were the only voice, orga­nized voice, for farm­work­ers in the state,” says Gon­za­lez. They are the front lines, they work with these work­ers every sin­gle day, they orga­nize these work­ers, they empow­er them, and they were able to bring a real face to the discussion.”

Gov. Brown’s sig­na­ture comes six years after his Repub­li­can pre­de­ces­sor, Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger, vetoed a sim­i­lar bill. Although Brown’s first tenure as Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor between 1975 and 1983 had seen him enact first-in-the-nation leg­is­la­tion that insti­tu­tion­al­ized col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rules for agri­cul­tur­al work­ers, since return­ing as gov­er­nor in 2011, Brown has vetoed sev­er­al pieces of leg­is­la­tion that would have helped strength­en the UFW’s abil­i­ty to orga­nize work­ers. In 2011, he vetoed a bill allow­ing the state’s Agri­cul­ture Labor Rela­tions Board to imple­ment union con­tracts after manda­to­ry medi­a­tion between the union and grow­ers. In 2014, Brown vetoed card-check leg­is­la­tion for farm­work­ers that would have made orga­niz­ing with­out an elec­tion far easier.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of Labor Thomas Perez, cel­e­brat­ed Gov. Brown’s sig­na­ture on AB 1066, as well as the exten­sion of expir­ing over­time pro­vi­sions for nan­nies and home­care work­ers who more than nine hours a day, say­ing in a state­ment, Peo­ple who work on farms and in our homes are some of America’s most vul­ner­a­ble work­ers. We all depend on their work to feed and care for our fam­i­lies, but far too often they can’t afford to put food on their own din­ner tables.”

Farm man­age­ment, how­ev­er, seemed to be uni­ver­sal­ly opposed. Tom Nas­sif, leader of a region­al farm man­age­ment asso­ci­a­tion called West­ern Grow­ers, aired the most com­mon argu­ment against AB 1066 — reduced farm­work­er hours — in a recent­ly released state­ment.

The Gov­er­nor has set in motion a chain of events that will cause work­ers in our fields to lose wages,” Nas­sif says. Cal­i­for­nia farm­ers will have no choice but to avoid even high­er costs of pro­duc­tion and they will uti­lize a num­ber of strate­gies, includ­ing reduc­ing work shifts and pro­duc­tion of crops that require large num­bers of employees.”

When asked about such claims, Gon­za­lez says we’ve heard that argu­ment time and time again,” adding that the argu­ments should be tak­en with a grain of salt” as they are talk­ing points of cor­po­rate America.”

There is a lot of work to be done. There’s a short­age of farm­work­ers and so we feel pret­ty con­fi­dent that they’re going to con­tin­ue to have robust hours and, in fact, are just going to make more mon­ey,” says Gonzalez.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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