Ag Overtime Bill Will Hurt Those Intended to Benefit – Farmworkers
In a bit of legislative slight-of-hand, a bill defeated in June that would have modified the overtime rules for farmworkers was brought back to life in a process called ‘gut and amend.’ This means that the author of the defeated bill takes the language of that bill and inserts it into another bill that already passed one house of the Legislature, thus keeping the issue alive.
Such is the case with Assembly Bill 1066, authored and now ‘gut-and-amend’ Assembly member from San Diego that has little or no experience with production Agriculture. Governor Brown signed the bill into law on September 12th after both the State Senate and Assembly approved in August.
The core language of this bill will change overtime rules for farmworkers from a 10 hour day/60 hour work week provision to an 8 hour day/40 hour work week. California is one of only a handful of states that even requires overtime for farmworkers, and then at a rate that recognizes the seasonality of crops and their harvest schedule crunches.
Note these facts: farmworkers can early 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.
The argument that the unions put forward for farmworkers needing overtime after 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week is being presented as a fairness and equity issue. Unions represent a very small percentage of farmworkers and do not speak for the vast majority of farmworkers who currently choose the increased opportunity for pay in their weekly checks. For anyone who understands farming, AB 1066 would actually hurt the people it's meant to help.
Restricting farmworkers to a shorter day or work week will not guarantee overtime pay. In contrast, this will most likely ensure that employers will limit work hours to 8 hours instead of 10 and avoid expensive overtime pay. It’s not just the costs of the overtime that impact farm operators; these costs are multiplied in premiums for worker compensation insurance and unemployment taxes paid, which are all based on total income paid to the employee.
This is certainly true when considering that the minimum wage will increase 50 percent in the coming five years, making labor that much more expensive for farm operators. Farmworkers on average earn more than minimum wage already, but the minimum wage increase will generally push all wages upward. California farmers also pay higher-than-average costs for fuel, electricity and land, and comply with a wide variety of regulations intended to benefit the environment, food safety and employee health that impact operating income.
Reducing these two hours a day or twenty hours a week results in a cut in pay of 33% to farmworkers each week, the exact opposite of what the unions are wanting the legislators to believe.
California’s overtime rules for farmworkers have demonstrated success and satisfaction for many decades now. Farmworkers are choosing harvest work for the very reason that the additional hours can benefit their paychecks.
This is a case of social engineering at the hands of a legislator who cares little for the farmworkers that will be harmed by this rule change.
Locally, changes to work hours could impact as many as 45,000 regular farmworkers in our Salinas Valley fields.