Last week marked the end of the “80-year-old practice of applying separate labor rules to agricultural laborers” in California, after Governor Jerry Brown passed a law implementing updated overtime wage pay changes for farmworkers. The bill passed with a vote of 44-32 in the State Assembly, which brought an uproarious applause by farm workers present at the time. This is a groundbreaking new law for California, a state which leads the way in efforts to protect the rights of farmworkers. California has the highest number of farmworkers in the country (totaling over 800,000) many of whom work over 60 hours per week. We discuss the issues around the new laws and the impact it will have in relation to overtime for farmworkers in California.
Currently, California law mandates that farmworkers are entitled to overtime pay after their tenth hour work of work per day, whereas other hourly employees are paid an overtime rate after their eighth hour of work. The last time a change was executed to the law governing wages for farmworkers was in 2002. Though the last set of additions were helpful, they still fell short, as farmworkers were kept as an exempt group of employees whose hourly pay rate was different than that of most other hourly employees in California. Surely, “equal pay for equal work” is a right which should be inherent. The current California Assembly bill supports this idea, stating that “the function of the Department of Industrial Relations is to, among other things, foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of California, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment”.
Even though the law will not go into effect until 2019, it gives hope to many of the farmworkers within the state that there will be a shift in the way they are compensated and treated for their rigorous and back-breaking work. Law AB 1066 states that farmworkers will be entitled to receive overtime pay after working an eight hour shift, just like any other hourly worker within the state. Per the assembly bill, the law will be phased in from 2019-2022 for farms with more than twenty-five workers, those who employ less than twenty-five workers will have an additional three years to make the adjustment. These four and seven year phasing periods are meant to ease the burden on farm owners, while allowing employees to start getting some of the compensation they deserve. The bill does include a possible exception, which states that if an economic problem were to arise, the governor can suspend the overtime changes. This shows the degree of separation in the way that farmworkers are perceived amongst all other hourly workers.
Without even adding the possibility of the suspension, not all farm workers are happy about these new changes. Some farm owners claim the law will not be helpful for the workers, as they believe they will not be able to afford the changes. Instead, they will have to make decisions that will negatively affect the farmworkers income, rather than boost it. They anticipate that they will need to hire more workers and reduce the hours of the current workers, or else they will be faced with the decision of having to close down their farms. They claim that they will not only have to adapt to these changes, but also the new minimum wage changes happening within the next few years. It is hard to anticipate how the economy will change and how farmers will have to adapt to the constant changes, but farms now have to adhere to these stricter guidelines about how they should compensate their workers who are essential to the agricultural economy within the country and who should be paid accordingly for the work they do.
California was the first state to give farmworkers collective bargaining rights, workers compensation and unemployment service. The state also requires that employers provide rest breaks and access to water and shade. These requirements have improved the lives of countless farmworkers. Only time will tell, but hopefully these changes will bring a step-up in the way that farm laborers within the state, and perhaps around the country, are compensated for the hard work they do. What do you think this new law for overtime for farmworkers will do to the Californian economy?