California Farmworkers Finally Achieve Overtime Pay Equity

Farmworkers in California achieved a major victory on September 12, 2016, when Governor Brown signed into law overtime protections for farmworkers. We congratulate the United Farm Workers, their allies and the California leaders who worked hard to achieve this historic success. Importantly, we also thank all of the farmworkers who took time out of their busy schedules to fight for this victory.

The passage of the overtime law, AB 1066, ensures farmworkers will have an equal right to overtime pay and continues the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. Rooted in discrimination against African American workers, the Fair Labor Standards Act excludes farmworkers from overtime and other protections. During the past forty years, California has gradually added farmworkers to employment-law protections from which they have been excluded by Congress and other state legislatures.

Under the new law, California farmworkers will be entitled to time-and-a-half pay for working more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours in a week in agriculture. The bill phases in overtime pay over a period of 4 years beginning in 2019; for employers with 25 or fewer employees, the phase-in will be delayed by three additional years. Double time pay will be required for 12 hours of work a day beginning in 2022. Under federal law, farmworkers and their employers are excluded from overtime pay; and under prior California law, overtime need only be paid if farmworkers work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours in a week.

For decades it has been recognized that businesses which require more than forty hours of work in a week should pay a premium wage. Overtime pay offers extra compensation to workers but also acts as a deterrent against employers’ imposition of excessively long work days and weeks. Consistent, excessive hours can be physically damaging, especially to workers who make their careers in strenuous jobs. Farm work has long been recognized as physically difficult, strenuous work. Excessive hours interfere with time needed to raise children, care for elderly parents, take classes, enjoy leisure time and get needed rest. Farmworkers’ low pay means that they usually cannot afford to pay for extended daycare hours for their children or other services that are needed to address the effects of working excessive hours.

Overtime pay has been controversial and opposed by many businesses as too costly and as being globally anti-competitive for over one hundred years. Yet, most people in working class jobs have been covered by time-and-a-half pay since passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Complaints by agricultural employers are no different from complaints by employers in other occupations who face increases in the minimum wage or overtime requirements. The exception for agriculture was never fair and we commend California for moving away from the discriminatory history experienced by farmworkers to grant overtime pay to agricultural workers.

The U.S. Congress needs to learn a lesson from California and end numerous exclusions of farmworkers from labor protections that apply to other workers. California is the most successful agricultural production state; about one-third of the nation’s farmworkers are employed there. Not only do farmworkers outside California deserve an end to discrimination in labor laws, but agricultural businesses in California should not have to compete with growers that save money on labor costs because the federal law and their state laws discriminate against farmworkers in employment laws. As UFW President Rodriguez said, AB 1066 "would give license to farmworkers in other states fighting for the same thing.” We all want to feel good about the food we purchase and consume, and the continuing discrimination in employment laws against farmworkers – the people who produce our food – perpetuates a stain on our food system that should be eradicated.