Opinion

Why Gov. Brown should sign farmworker overtime bill

Now that the California Assembly has passed legislation to bring about 825,000 farmworkers into the 21st century by making them eligible for overtime pay, all eyes will be on Gov. Jerry Brown to see if he will sign legislation authored by Assemblymember Lorena González, D-San Diego.

Our suggestion is that the governor ink his name. Doing so would correct an injustice began decades ago when President Franklin Roosevelent and Congress purposely left farmworkers off the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime requirements eight decades ago as a compromise with Southern legislators. The oversight was targeted at black farmworkers.

Last Monday, the Assembly voted 44-32 to provide overtime pay for farmworkers after they work more than 8 hours in one day, or 40 hours in one week. Double pay would kick in after a 12-hour work day. The legislation, which was tabled the previous Friday, would not go into affect in 2019. Farmers who employ 25 or fewer workers would not have to comply until 2022. Another safeguard built into the legislation would give the governor the authority to suspend the overtime pay for a year should the economy falter.

The ag industry has complained that paying overtime will destroy its industry. They, and some farmworkers, have said the bill, if signed, will force employers to reduce working hours to avoid paying overtime. The agriculture lobby has worked hard to defeat the legislation, with most Republican lawmakers voicing opposition.

In an opinion piece published in The Fresno Bee before the vote, Assemblymember Devon Mathis, D-Tulare, called the legislation “unnecessary and unparalleled. Federal law at present exempts farmworkers from overtime pay.”

But, that is exactly why California needed to stand up for farmworkers, who earn an average of $xx,000. Most make minimum wage, and live in poverty.

“With minimum wage going up, that means the average farmworker could lose about $1,200 per month in wages if he or she is not allowed to work 60 hours, as they now do. Seasonal employees, who are crucial during harvest season, could see their earnings decrease by as much as 28 percent,” wrote Mathis. “With minimum wage going up, that means the average farmworker could lose about $1,200 per month in wages if he or she is not allowed to work 60 hours, as they now do. Seasonal employees, who are crucial during harvest season, could see their earnings decrease by as much as 28 percent.”

Such talk is mostly a scare tactic. Remember when critics of Obamacare predicted employers would reduce hours of workers to avoid having to provide them with health benefits? (An Indiana University study “found little evidence that the ACA had caused increases in part-time employment as of 2015.”)

Labor is just as important as water for farmers. Why continue to punish farmworkers? When Florida tomato pickers convinced retail buyers like Taco Bell and Wal-Mart to pay 1-cent extra per pound to the pickers, it raised their pay from $10,000 a year to about $17,000 ... and the farmers didn’t suffer.

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