National Farmworker Awareness Week - Overtime Pay

To commemorate National Farmworker Awareness Week  (March 24-31, 2018), Farmworker Justice staff are writing blogs that touch on different aspects of farmworkers' living and working conditions.

"Although it’s so very hot, even so we work 13 hours each day without resting a single day, planting and picking fruits and vegetables so that people here can eat. Well, the truth is that we suffer a lot by being here..."

A.R.C. (a farmworker)

Every day Americans enjoy an abundance of food thanks to the labor of the roughly 2.4 million farmworkers who engage in back-breaking work to ensure America’s food security. As noted in the above quote, farmworkers often work long hours without rest, particularly during peak harvest times. Yet these workers are excluded from many of the basic workplace protections that other Americans take for granted – including the overtime protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and even the FLSA’s minimum wage protections for certain small employers and industries.  The basic labor protections for workers that were enacted during the 1930s should apply to farmworkers: the people who labor on farms and ranches to feed us.  This year marks the 80th anniversary of the FLSA.  It is about time – really long past the time – for Congress to end the discrimination against agricultural workers in FLSA.

The exclusion of agricultural workers from the minimum wage and overtime pay was never fair and can be traced back to racism and political expediency.  The sponsors of the New Deal era labor legislation, including FLSA, mustered enough votes for passage by appeasing southern states’ legislators, who demanded the exclusion from coverage of agricultural and domestic workers. At the time, the farmworker population in the South was predominantly African American, and often was subjected to plantation-like conditions. Today, the majority of agricultural workers are Latino. Discrimination in our immigration and labor laws has persisted, depriving farmworkers of basic workplace protections and fundamental human and democratic rights.

It is time to remedy the discrimination farmworkers face in their minimum wage and overtime protections. In 2016, California recognized the need to provide farmworkers overtime protection.  California’s overtime law for farmworkers ensures farmworkers will have an equal right to overtime pay and continues the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. California is the most successful agricultural production state and has the largest population of farmworkers. Not only do farmworkers outside of 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. The U.S. Congress needs to learn a lesson from California and end the exclusion of farmworkers from FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage protections.

The treatment of farmworkers in this country is unreasonable and unsustainable.  As in generations past, today’s farmworkers experience high rates of poverty: low wages and lack of overtime pay are key contributing factors.  Farm work is one of the most hazardous occupations in the country, with routine exposure to dangerous pesticides, arduous labor and extreme heat.  Such poor conditions and discriminatory laws have resulted in substantial employee turnover, leading to instability in our labor force.  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.

Please sign this petition supporting federal legislation to address this issue.