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Farmworkers overtime pay proposal would devastate Valley ag

Assembly Member Devon Mathis says that passage of a farm labor overtime pay bill would result in less work for someone such as Salvador Rodriguez, who is shown harvesting peaches in an Selma orchard.
Assembly Member Devon Mathis says that passage of a farm labor overtime pay bill would result in less work for someone such as Salvador Rodriguez, who is shown harvesting peaches in an Selma orchard. Fresno Bee file/2013

The past several years have been difficult for agricultural workers in California, especially because of the drought and limits on water use. It’s estimated that the drought cost the ag industry nearly $2.7 billion and 21,000 jobs in 2015.

One in five jobs in the San Joaquin Valley is directly related to farming. Lower production and fewer ag jobs in California would have a ripple effect throughout the state, nation and world.

Local farmers are looking for some relief from Sacramento in these tough times, but instead the Legislature is poised to make the problem worse.

Assembly Bill 1066 by San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez would devastate the ag industry and make it difficult to find enough workers to help on farms throughout the state.

The misguided proposal would reduce the overtime threshold for farmworkers by 20 hours per week to 40 hours. This legislation is unnecessary and unparalleled. Federal law at present exempts farmworkers from overtime pay.

The bill, which the author says is pro-farmworker, would actually take away their ability to earn a living. With minimum wage going up, that means the average farmworker could lose about $1,200 per month in wages if he or she is not allowed to work 60 hours, as they now do. Seasonal employees, who are crucial during harvest season, could see their earnings decrease by as much as 28 percent.

Ag work is hard work, that’s for sure. When production is at its peak, that’s when there’s the greatest need for strong labor in the fields. We should allow farmers to work with their teams to ensure the job is done. The current system allows farmworkers to have flexibility to go where there’s work and they can get paid for their labor.

The ag industry has been delivering food for the country and rest of the world for decades. Now is not the time for micromanagement from the government.

Californians and farmers cannot afford to have its farms left in ruin by even more unrealistic regulations. Farms in California already have the highest regulatory costs in the country. In California, industrial electricity costs are more than 60 percent higher than the national average, gasoline costs almost one-third higher, and workers’ compensation premium rates are higher than anywhere else in the country.

The state also has unique restrictions on the use of crop protection tools. Farmers must also keep fertilizer from going below a plant’s roots. If that isn’t enough, water supply costs are increasing because less surface water is available.

I will continue to fight for farmers across the state by opposing Assembly Bill 1066. We don’t need more regulation and higher costs that would further cripple the ag industry in California.

Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, represents the 26th District in the state Assembly. He is vice chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

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