Thu | Sep 21, 2017

California expands historic farm worker overtime policy

Published:Wednesday | September 14, 2016 | 9:00 AM

SACRAMENTO, California (AP):

For the first time, farm workers in California will soon be entitled to the same pay as other hourly workers, after California's governor signed an expansion of a labour policy.

Governor Jerry Brown's announcement came decades after labour leader Cesar Chavez and the thousands of farm workers he organised pushed officials to recognise the union of agricultural labourers.

The legislation will require that farm employers pay workers one and one-half times regular wages pay after eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week, rather than the rate enacted in 1975 of 10 hours in one day or 60 hours in a week.

"We've been able to break the barrier for farm workers here in California," United Farm Workers (UFW) President Arturo Rodriguez said. He called it precedent-setting, but declined to say when or where the UFW would seek to expand its efforts. "We were fighting hard just to get this one first."

Even in a state with a Legislature controlled by the Democratic Party, there were no assurances the measure would pass. Farm owners and agricultural associations, as well as some outside farm groups, are overwhelmingly opposed to the change because they argue it will make overtime unaffordable and lead to fewer hours for individual workers.

"The bill hurts both farmers and farm workers and will result in increased grocery bills and farmers leaving California," said Senator Jeff Stone, R-Temecula.

But an ongoing shortage of people willing to sow and harvest fields in California means one thing for employers, Rodriguez said: Either pay workers overtime after eight hours or risk a lower yield.

Brown's signature on the bill, which came without comment from his office, came 41 years after he first oversaw implementation of a farm worker overtime policy as governor in 1975 when the state Industrial Welfare Commission ordered agricultural employers to pay workers overtime.

Brown gave no indication of where he stood on the issue this year as hundreds of people came to the Capitol to rally for and against it. A spokeswoman for the governor, Deborah Hoffman, declined to comment on Monday.

The new law will be phased in beginning in 2019 and take full effect for most farms in 2022, or 2025 for small farms of 25 or fewer employees.