In September, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation expanding overtime pay for the state’s farm workers. The legislation is set to gradually add hundreds of thousands of California farm workers to the ranks of those who are paid overtime after eight hours on the job or 40 hours in a single week. The bill was called a victory by the leaders of its sponsor, the United Farm Workers of America, who have worked nearly 80 years to establish broad rights protections for farm laborers.
The legislation, however, is not without its detractors in the agricultural community, which lobbied heavily against the new law because it said the industry would be hurt. Farmers and agricultural lobby groups, in fact, expressed deep disappointment with the new legislation arguing that it could backfire on farm workers, as it saddles farmers and growers with higher costs and could force them to limit work hours and hire more employees. Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, in an article in the Los Angeles Times, said growers would have no choice but to reduce employee hours and increase food prices for consumers. Some also could leave the state.
The new legislation includes a phase-in of new overtime rules over four years beginning in 2019. It will lower the current 10-hour-day threshold for overtime by half an hour each year until it reaches the standard eight-hour day by 2022. It will also phase in a 40-hour standard workweek for the first time. The governor will be able to suspend any part of the process for a year depending on economic conditions.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers union, said he was grateful to the lawmakers who voted for the legislation and to Brown for “making a tough decision like this and changing the course of history.” AB 1066 “would give license to farmworkers in other states fighting for the same thing,” Rodriguez said. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez also applauded the bill.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 first established minimum wage and overtime standards but excluded all agricultural workers, the majority of whom at the time were African American. The California legislature exempted farm workers from earning overtime pay in 1941, lasting until 1976, when the state Industrial Welfare Commission ordered overtime pay for farm workers after 10 hours on the job on any single day and 60 hours in a week. Hourly workers in other jobs across the state receive overtime pay after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week.