ASSEMBLYWOMAN GONZALEZ PROPOSES OVERTIME EQUALITY FOR FARMWORKERS, GAINS CLINTON ENDORSEMENT

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AB 2757 would establish an 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek standard for California farmworkers

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Pixabay

March 10, 2016 (Sacramento) – California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) announced legislation to establish equitable overtime standards for farmworkers in line with other Californians, as well as the support of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the idea.

Over four years, the “Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016” – known as Assembly Bill 2757 – would gradually phase in standards for farmworker overtime lowering the current 10-hour day level to the standard 8-hour day, and establishing for the first time a 40-hour standard workweek. The phase-in would be by annual half hour-per-day increments until reaching eight hours, and annual five-hour-per-week increments until reaching 40 hours. Both final standards would be achieved in 2020. 

California, one of only four states in the nation to require any overtime pay for agricultural workers, currently requires overtime only for work longer than 10 hours a day.

 “Every worker who touches our food in California – from the packing houses to the grocery store to the restaurant – earns overtime after eight hours of work, except the people who actually pick it," said Gonzalez. "Few occupations are as physically demanding or exhausting as the backbreaking labor performed by farmworkers, and it's time to allow the same right to the overtime pay as anyone else in our food production chain.”

 In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which established the minimum wage, recordkeeping, child labor standards, and overtime pay eligibility. However, the FLSA failed to include agricultural workers throughout the United States, and in 1941, the Legislature officially exempted all agricultural workers from statutory requirements of overtime. In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation establishing a modified standard for these workers still in effect today, with a 10-hour day and 60-hour week.

The legislation is announced with strong endorsement from presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who wrote to the Governor, State Senate President Pro Tem, and Speaker of the Assembly to express her support.

“In 1976, California became a national leader on workers' rights when it enacted overtime protections for farmworkers. Once again, California is poised to lead our nation on this matter of equity and justice,” Clinton wrote, adding, “In the California State Assembly, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has introduced the Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016, which would build on the progress the state made forty years ago by extending equitable overtime protections to California's farm workers. I have been committed to our nation's agricultural workers throughout my career, and I write to convey my strong support for this legislation. It reflects our shared commitment to fair and humane working conditions for those whose labor feed our nation and much of the world."

 In 2014, California’s farms and ranches brought in $54 billion and farmworker pay in the state surpasses $5 billion a year. More than 90 percent of California farmworkers are Latino and more than 80 percent are immigrants. Recent data also found the median personal income of California farmworkers to be just $14,000.

The Agricultural Council, which represents growers, has come out against the bill.  The organization’s website states, “AB 2757 adds an unnecessary regulatory burden onto agriculture and makes it difficult to remain competitive.” The Council contends that flexibility is needed for farmers due to the seasonable variability of farming.

AB 2757 is officially introduced by Assemblymembers Gonzalez and joint authors Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Cristina Garcia (D-Downey) and Roger Hernández (D-West Covina), with Senator Hall (D-San Pedro) serving as principal co-author. Additional coauthors are Assemblymembers Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), Nora Campos (D-San Jose), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Kansen Chu (D-Milpitas), Mike Gipson (D-Gardena), Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando), Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), Jose Medina (D-Riverside), Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz), Tony Thurmond (D-Oakland), and Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), and Senators Jim Beall (D-San Jose), Marty Block (D-San Diego), Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Carol Liu (D-Glendale), and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).