Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

California Lawmakers Pass Bill To Pay Farmworkers Overtime After 8 Hours

Farmworkers and their supporters gather outside the office of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, in Sacramento, Aug. 25, 2016.
Associated Press
Farmworkers and their supporters gather outside the office of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, in Sacramento, Aug. 25, 2016.

California Lawmakers Pass Bill To Pay Farmworkers Overtime After 8 Hours
California Lawmakers Pass Bill To Pay Farmworkers Overtime After 8 Hours GUEST: Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblywoman, 80th District

Our top story is a landmark deal that would give farmworkers the same right to overtime pay as other workers in California is now awaiting Governor's Jerry Brown signature. Workers earn overtime after working 10 hours a day. AB1066 once of -- won approval yesterday. I am joined now by Lorena Gonzalez . Welcome to the program. Thank you. Most hourly workers earn overtime pay after working eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. Why is it different for farmworkers? They have been exempt since 1930s. There's a lot of reasons for that or go none of them are pretty. The people that have always done the hard work on our farms have been looked at as second-class citizens. The debate around the act really centered on the fact that the center said you can't pay African-Americans at the time we are working field the same as whites. We have this exemption. Which slowly in California try to chip away at all the rights that farmworkers should have. This is the last when in California. They have a 10 hour workday by law. There have been failed attempts over the years to try to get to an eight hour day. We are hoping this is the magic when. How with this pay change for farmworkers? It is being phased in so that forms can have a opportunity to adjust to these new roles. What would happen is the first year farmworkers would get time and a half after nine a half hours and the second year after nine hours. So on the fourth year after eight hours in the field or 40 hours per week they would earn time and a half like every other hourly worker in California. Opponents argue that farm work is not like other hourly jobs . They say time is of the essence when crops need to be harvested and regular overtime requirements would hurt growers. We spoke with Eric Larson who said he was disappointed with this vote. We don't think the members have taken a look at agriculture in San Diego. Because of the price of water in the price of land and the competition for the crops that we grow here are going to places like Mexico. So with those narrow margins the farmers have no capacity to pay overtime. How do you respond to that? Agriculture in California is a 50 for billion-dollar industry. It is industry that has actually continue to increase profits during the drought. They increase their profits are in times when they say of overregulation. Although we want to make sure that we don't put farms out of business because agricultural is very important. We are the largest small farm county in the nation. So we have different challenges. They don't have the number of workforce that some of the other larger fruits and vegetables and up and down the coast. This is what is fair and at some point farmers just like retailers another big industries need to figure out how to show their profits with their workers in a way that is fair. Farmworkers do the hardest work in the toughest conditions. It should be shocking to anyone to believe that every time they are out there for 10 to 12 hours they should be earning the appropriate overtime. You had a lot of resistance on this building including from your fellow Democrats. How did you bring it back after it was rejected in June? We could not give it up. We saw farmworkers all summer ended up in hospital and some died this summer over heat exhaustion. We knew that it would be a hot summer and maybe people saw and digested it -- we just kept coming back to them and say we have to look at this. We got more facts and figures about the industry and how well they continue to do. We put our faith in humanity. Became a successful. The farmworkers and the turn 12 did a fabulous job. How do you think overtime after an eight hour day would affect California farmworkers? Obviously it would put more money in their pockets. The day is essential not just because people need more money but because there is a standard believe that you should spend eight hours working and eight hours with your family. Been able to do things that people do. We have farmworkers that are working 10 to 12 hours every single day of the week. That might be too much in a recent that the average lifespan for farmworkers is 49 years. We think this will relieve some of those burdens and also for those times when times are tough and they have to work overtime. At least they will be bringing home a little bit more money for their families. You think Governor Brown will sign this legislation? I never predict what he will do. I would be out of business if I try to. We do not this that Governor Brown's legacy is tied to United farmworkers and to the rights of farmworkers have had in the state. He was the first governor in the nation to allow farmworkers rights to organize. He gave farmworkers the first victory with a 10 hour workday. We know that he's tied closely to this. We know he's also always concerned about how fast we go on anything. That's when reason we put a delayed implementation and spread up a number of years it will take to get there. Where hopeful that we can have on his conversation with him about the economic stress or call I've been speaking with Lorena Gonzalez. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Four decades after he signed the nation's first law giving farmworkers collective bargaining rights, Gov. Jerry Brown will again consider a historic proposal calling for farmworkers to receive the same overtime pay as other hourly workers, after the Assembly approved legislation Monday to phase in the change.


California employers are already mandated to pay time-and-a half to farmworkers after 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. That's longer than the overtime pay for all other workers, who get it after eight hours in a day or 40 hours a week.

The Assembly passed the proposal with a 44-32 vote after two hours of debate over whether the increase in wages would cause managers to cut hours or jobs.

"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."

The bill was previously passed in the state Senate 21-14. Brown spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said he has not yet taken a position on it.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, proposed that the state phase in time-and-a-half pay for farm laborers who exceed eight hours in one day by 2022 on large farms and by 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer employees.


"We're asking for equality eventually. It starts today, however," Gonzalez said.

Opponents argue the seasonal nature of farm work does not lend itself to overtime. They said the added costs will require employers to cut workers' hours, ultimately hurting hundreds of thousands of farmworkers in California.

"There was a special standard set for farming so that we could bring the crop in and be the leader, in California, to not only the world but the nation and that our farmworkers would be taken care of," said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.

The Assembly rejected the proposal in June, when eight Democrats opposed it and another six refused to vote. In what Gonzalez has described as an unprecedented move to revive the bill, she worked around the Legislature's rules and reinserted the proposal in another bill, angering Republicans who objected to the breach in procedure.

Gonzalez waged a social media campaign to pressure her Democratic colleagues to back AB1066; agreed to compromises to win votes, including giving small farms an extra three years to pay more overtime; and led a squad of Democratic allies in a 24-hour fast paying homage to the weekslong fast that legendary farmworker activist Cesar Chavez staged when the "Salad Bowl" strike of 1970 initially failed.

Brown, currently serving in an unprecedented fourth term as California governor, first ran for the job on the heels of the nation's largest agricultural labor strike. Thousands of workers walked off farms in 1970, picketing for farm owners to recognize and negotiate fair labor conditions with the union that Chavez had established nearly a decade earlier.

The strike fizzled with no legislative accomplishments under former Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan. The movement came alive again with Brown's election to the governor's office in 1974.

Last week, tensions flared when roughly 300 farmworkers and union leaders who had planned to join a rally learned that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, had postponed the vote without explanation. About 100 people congregated outside Rendon's office, chanted "overtime," and sang "De Colores," a Mexican folk song that was a staple at strikes and union meetings when Chavez led the UFW.

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.