Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Farmworkers deserve to be paid for overtime

Chardonnay grapes are picked in the Stelling Vineyard at Far Niente winery in Oakville. The state Assembly is expected to vote Monday on a bill that would require farmworkers to receive overtime after working eight hours.
Chardonnay grapes are picked in the Stelling Vineyard at Far Niente winery in Oakville. The state Assembly is expected to vote Monday on a bill that would require farmworkers to receive overtime after working eight hours. Associated Press file/2013

As an emergency room doctor in Selma, I provided care to farmworkers on a daily basis. I saw farmworkers who were in poor health because of the harsh conditions they encounter in the fields. It is difficult and exhausting work, often in the hot summer sun. And when they are overworked beyond a reasonable limit, the risk of life-changing injury skyrockets.

It is telling that I saw these conditions more in farmworkers than in their colleagues in similar occupations. That is because other workers already have protections that farmworkers lack.

The workers who process and pack the produce get overtime; the workers who pick the crops do not.

The state Assembly will vote on Assembly Bill 1066, which addresses this inequity by providing farmworkers the same overtime protections as workers in most other industries by allowing them to receive overtime pay when they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

After meeting with hundreds of people from around the Valley on both sides of the issue, I decided to support the measure.

California has always been on the forefront of protecting workers and improving working conditions for those who drive our economy. This bill would simply provide farmworkers with the basic worker protections that we all enjoy.

This legislation would not take effect right away. To help give businesses time to adapt and not disrupt their operations, I successfully advocated for amendments that will delay full implementation of overtime pay until 2022.

For small businesses, full implementation would not be required until 2025. The bill also gives the governor the ability to suspend the phase-in of the overtime rules if we suffer another economic downturn.

As a Valley native, I understand the importance of agriculture to our local economy. It depends on a successful agriculture industry and thriving community of workers. I believe this bill contributes to a growing Valley economy and middle class.

My father, grandfather and their family worked in the fields. I was born in Delano in the midst of the farmworker community. I believe AB 1066 will bring real quality-of-life improvements to thousands in our community – people like my father and grandfather.

I believe we all benefit when everyone, including farmworkers, has these protections, giving them time for rest and to be with family, while also reducing the threat of injuries from working long hours under the sun.

I respect the views of those who oppose AB 1066. However, I don’t believe it is fair that those who package carrots for our supermarkets get overtime, but those who pick the carrots do not.

Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Kingsburg, represents the 31st Assembly District.

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