On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law granting state farmworkers overtime pay after eight hours of work per day or 40 hours per week instead of the current 10 per day or 60 per week.

Assembly Bill 1066 removes exemptions for agricultural employees regarding meal break and specific wage requirements, bringing their state-mandated benefits in line with employees in many other industries.

Agricultural workers currently receive some overtime pay under a state law from 2002, but AB 1066 will increase it to time-and-a-half pay for working more than eight hours in a day or 40 in a week, and it will double pay for those who work more than 12 hours a day. The bill will phase in the changes starting in 2019 through 2022, and allows the governor to temporarily suspend the pay increases for a year if he also suspends scheduled increases to the state’s minimum wage.

Employers who have 25 or fewer employees have an additional three years to phase in the expanded overtime requirements.

For the time being, the new bill isn’t likely to have a large impact on the Coastside’s agricultural industry, according to Fred Crowder, the county’s agricultural commissioner. Most agricultural businesses on the Coastside employ fewer than 25 employees, Crowder said. The few larger employers are mostly nurseries, which generally already operate on limited shift schedules and are unlikely to require employees to work overtime.

Advocates of the bill see it as a long-overdue effort to right the injustice of the 1938 federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which excluded agricultural workers from wage protections and overtime compensation requirements. “It is the intent of the Legislature ... to provide any person employed in an agricultural occupation in California ... with an opportunity to earn overtime compensation under the same standards as millions of other Californians,” read the new bill’s text.

Critics of the bill, including the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Western Growers Association, say it will backfire and ultimately reduce farmworkers incomes. A report by Highland Economics commissioned by a coalition of agricultural organizations argues that farmers might respond to the requirements by reducing agricultural production, expanding their labor force, or using mechanical labor instead of human — all of which would harm farmworkers.

If farmers choose to expand the labor force by hiring more workers to shorten their shifts, the report estimates a pay reduction of $4,500 in per worker each year.

But that’s unlikely to happen, argues Lauro Barajas, Salinas regional director for United Farm Workers, a labor union that supported the bill. Barajas pointed to a shortage of farm workers on the Coastside and the expenses employers incur when hiring new employees. Such deterrents will make it hard to sidestep the overtime requirements, he said. To Barajas, the bill grants farmworkers the equal recognition he says has long been overdue to them.

“Workers are the ones who do the most important jobs because they provide food so we can live and function,” he said. “That needs to be very respected and we need to be in solidarity with the farmworkers.”

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