Leaders of the Salinas Valley agriculture industry responded firmly Tuesday in opposition to a state bill that rewrites the overtime pay policy for farmworkers in California.
While farm labor advocates hail the passage of Assembly Bill 1066, Norm Groot, president of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, said the changes could lead to less pay for fewer farm workers in a region that employs as many as 45,000 regular field laborers.
“The end result, if this is signed into law, is that farm operations will be driven toward more mechanization and fewer farmworkers, possibly changing the mix of crops that are produced here in the Salinas Valley.
“Instead of putting more money into the paychecks of farmworkers, this will result in less hours worked and a corresponding reduction in earned income for these farmworkers, and thus, less spending at our community businesses.”
Earlier, the state Senate passed the bill, 21 to 14.
AB 1066 now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said he has not yet taken a position on it.
If approved, the bill would require the state to phase in time-and-a-half pay for farm workers who exceed eight hours in one day by 2022 on large farms, and by 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer employees.
Now, California growers are required to pay time-and-a half to farm workers after 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. That’s longer than the overtime pay for all other workers in the state, who get OT after eight hours in a day or 40 hours a week.
The United Farm Workers sponsored AB 1066. The union organized rallies of farm workers who lost a day’s pay last week to travel to the Capitol. The UFW also joined lawmakers who launched a 24-hour hunger strike to support the bill. In the language of the bill, the UFW argued: “Farm workers engage in back-breaking work every day. Few occupations in today’s America are as physically demanding and exhausting as farm work. Yet no job in America requiring such demand on the human body pays less for a long day’s work than what this bill is asking for farm workers.”
The UFW stated that it has been 77 years since farm workers were excluded from the wage protections and maximum hour standards through the enactment of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. “Excluding farm workers is part of our country’s shameful legacy that initially targeted African-Americans who were farm workers in the 1930s. … excluding farm workers from overtime was wrong in 1938, and is wrong today.”
However, California does provide for farmworker OT.
“What’s ironic is that California is the only state that currently provides daily overtime compensation for agricultural employees,” said Jim Bogart, CEO and general counsel of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. “That’s right,” he said, “California already has the highest wage and hour standards in the country and we just raised the bar higher.”
“The passage of AB 1066 is disappointing and it places California farmers at a further competitive disadvantage in the global and national marketplace,” said Bogart.
“I fear that this bill will actually hurt farm workers — the very people this legislation is purportedly designed to benefit,” said Bogart. “Hours of work will be reduced and, as a consequence, so will the workers’ paychecks.”
Restricting farmworkers to a shorter day or work week will not guarantee overtime pay, said Groot. “In contrast, this will most likely ensure that employers will limit work hours to 8 hours instead of 10 and avoid expensive overtime pay.”
The bill would further burden growers who are already challenged with increasing minimum wage rates, regulatory compliance costs, paid time off mandates, and health care provisions, Groot said.
Because crop harvesting is seasonal, not year-long, “Farmworkers can earn up to 33 percent more pay in a week than non-agricultural employees because they can work as much as 60 hours a week during peak harvest. While labor unions are presenting an image that farmworkers are somehow being forced to work such hours, the truth is that many of these farmworkers choose harvest work for this very reason.”
“Rules that apply to typical 9 to 5 businesses cannot be applied to the grape growing business because of its cyclical, labor intensive nature,” said Kim Stemler, executive director of the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association.
“Sometimes, with good intentions, the state Legislature passes a bill that looks good on the surface, but when enacted, ends up having very negative impact,” said Stemler. “AB 1066 will ultimately negatively affect our family owned vineyards, hurting both winegrape grower and vineyard workers – the people that it was meant to protect,” she said.
Groot also addressed the pro-labor politics at play in the passing of AB 1066.
“It is disappointing that both Assembly members who represent the Monterey County agricultural community voted in favor of the rule change, knowing the economic impacts this would have on farmworker paychecks,” said Groot.
“Farmworkers are some of the most hardworking people I know and they deserve overpay after 8 hours of work in a day or 40 hours in a week,” said state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel. “The bill phases in the overtime pay, and the fact that both the Senate and the Assembly supported AB 1066 is a testament to the respect we have for farmworkers and the importance of working toward equality in pay for all California workers.”
The farmworker overtime pay issue had been defeated in an earlier bill but returned, tucked into a subsequent bill that already had passed one house of the Legislature. This “sleight of hand,” as Groot called it, is called “gut and amend.”
The bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, revived the bill and worked around the Legislature’s rules and reinserted the proposal in another bill, angering Republicans who objected to the breach in procedure.
California lawmakers passed a similar bill in 2010 that would have deleted the exemption of agricultural employees from overtime requirements. Former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
“There may be situations where people may believe that they will lose something in terms of economics, but my father taught me that it was more than about the money, it was about who he was as a man and it was about him being respected by everyone else like everyone else,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, whose father was a sharecropper. “Sometimes, for that reason, you make that economic sacrifice.”
“We’re asking for equality,” Gonzalez said. “It starts today.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Follow Roberto M. Robledo on Twitter @robledo_salnews #salinas. On Facebook, visit: Roberto Robledo.