The California Assembly voted 44-32 on Monday in favor of a bill that would make California the first in the country to give farmworkers the same overtime pay afforded to people in other industries, effectively reversing a decades-old practice of exempting field hands from wage rules.
The bill already had cleared the state Senate, so now it goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who hasn’t said whether he will sign it.
Republican Devon Mathis of Visalia, the Assembly Agriculture Committee vice chairman, said the outcome actually will hurt, not help, farmworkers.
“Over the weekend I met with farmworkers throughout my district in the fields they work, and I was touched by their stories and how important these jobs are to them, their families, and their future,” Mathis said. “Everyone I spoke to asked me to vote against this bill and they understood that if AB 1066 passed, it would equal lost hours and wages for them.”
Others applauded the vote. Marc Grossman, United Farm Workers union spokesman, said about 250 farmworkers witnessed the historic vote in the Assembly on Monday.
“This was historic because it remedies a 78-year-old injustice that farmworkers were excluded from overtime pay after working eight hours. Yes, it is about money, but the greater principle is that this is a step towards being treated as equals,” Grossman said. “And we want the governor to hear the same case that moved the Senate and Assembly. It is time to right an old wrong.”
George Radanovich, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, said the vote illuminates an “over-influence of United Farm Workers on the Legislature.” Radanovich said farmers can’t pass costs onto the consumer because they have no control over the market. He said the overtime decision will be oppressive on the Valley’s top industry.
“Most people who voted for it grew up on asphalt and cement,” he said.
California is one of four states already requiring overtime pay for agriculture workers. In 1976, the state Industrial Welfare Commission ordered extra wages for farm laborers after more than 10 hours a day or more than 60 hours a week.
AB 1066 would expand that to bring it more in line with other industries, offering time-and-a-half pay for working more than eight hours in a day or 40 in a week and double pay for working more than 12 hours a day. The pay boosts would kick in incrementally over four years, and the governor could suspend them for a year if the economy falters.
The bill voted on Monday differed slightly from the original version, having been amended to allow smaller farms more time to implement the change. In an olive branch to opponents, this version of the bill would give farms with 25 or fewer employees until 2022 to start complying, while larger farms would need to start paying more in 2019.
The vote largely split along party lines. Central San Joaquin Valley Republicans Jim Patterson of Fresno, Frank Bigelow of O’Neals, Adam Gray of Merced and Mathis of Visalia voted against it; freshman Joaquin Arambula of Kingsburg voted for it.
All 38 Democrats who voted for the bill previously were joined by one Republican, Eric Linder of Corona, and five Democrats who had either opposed the measure in June or not cast a vote.
Philip Martin, a farm labor expert at University of California, Davis, said there isn’t reliable data on average working hours for farm laborers. He said it’s known that equipment operators, dairy workers and irrigators have long hours – especially the latter, because farmers are more likely to pay overtime than buy more equipment. He said many harvest workers put in fewer than eight hours a day but work during the weekend.
Harold McClarty, owner of HMC Farms, grows table grapes and stone fruit. He employs around 1,500 workers during peak production. McClarty said overtime, combined with minimum wage increases and piece-rate legislation, means he will have to decrease workers’ hours and look toward other solutions such as growing different commodities that can be mechanically harvested.
“When we’re doing grapes and it gets hot, it’s six hours (a day). When it gets cooler we go to 10,” he said. “We’re not going to do that anymore.”
It’s hard to say how Brown will act on the measure. His record on labor and farmworker issues is mixed. He signed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, and frequently has mentioned his personal relationship with Cesar Chavez, the late labor leader.
But Brown often has sided with industry interests since returning to office, at times infuriating farmworker advocates. In 2011, the UFW protested Brown when he vetoed a bill that would have made it easier to unionize farmworkers, though Brown later signed a compromise bill.