SACRAMENTO (CN) — More than 40 years after granting farmworkers collective bargaining rights, the California Legislature on Monday approved a landmark proposal that would extend basic overtime laws to the state’s vital agricultural labor force.
If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would become the first state to mandate overtime pay to farmworkers who work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours per week. The overtime laws would be phased in incrementally over four years, beginning in 2019.
The Assembly approved the proposal by 44-32 vote, with supporters calling it a historic victory for workers’ and human rights.
“We righted an 80-year-old wrong and said that hourly workers will have the same overtime protections, whether they are picking vegetables in a field, manufacturing their containers in a factory or selling them in a store,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount.
It was the second time this summer that lawmakers considered whether to expand overtime wages to the Golden State’s estimated 800,000 farmworkers. A similar bill died in June after falling four votes shy of clearing the Assembly.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, reintroduced her proposal into a separate bill and gained support by adding amendments calling for the overtime laws to be phased in. Gonzalez and her supporters called Assembly Bill 1066 a critical step in aligning California farmworker labor rights with the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which introduced and mandated overtime pay.
“The whole world eats the food provided by California farmworkers, yet we don’t guarantee fair overtime pay for the backbreaking manual labor they put in to keep us fed,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “We know this is the right thing to do.”
An overflow crowd of farmworkers traveled to the Capitol last week to witness the Assembly vote, only to be disappointed when the vote was postponed until Monday. Despite the perceived setback, Rendon and Gonzalez assured the hundreds of farmworkers who took off work that the bill had enough votes to clear the Assembly.
The opponents, consisting largely of Republicans and growers associations, were adamant that AB 1066 will cause large-scale farmworker job losses. They said that while farmworkers can work up to 60 hours a week without overtime pay under California labor laws, the long weeks are necessary and common only during harvest seasons.
The Western Growers Association warned after the Assembly vote that lawmakers have put California farmers at a huge disadvantage and that Californians should expect a surge in produce prices.
“While AB 1066 claims to protect agricultural employees, this shortsighted policy will have the opposite effect, reducing the number of hours available (and earnings potential of) farmworkers,” Growers Association President Tom Nassif said in a statement.
California, the largest agricultural-producing state, is one of the few states to require premium or overtime pay to agricultural workers who work more than 10 hours in a day or 60 hours a week.
Recent studies show that Golden State farmers and ranchers brought in more than $54 billion in revenue in 2014 despite the state’s devastating drought.
The median annual income of California farmworkers is $14,000. Ninety percent of farmworkers are Latino. Brown has sided with farmworkers in the past and was instrumental in passing the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which created bargaining rights and the current overtime laws. In recent years, however, the fourth-term governor has vetoed several labor laws backed by the state’s most powerful agricultural labor union, the United Farm Workers union
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