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Governor Signs Landmark Farmworker Overtime Bill

Governor Brown has signed new legislation that will change overtime rules for California farm workers.

The new law will expand overtime pay for more than 825,000 farm workers across the state.

AB 1066 narrowly passed through the state legislature before making it to the Governor’s desk which he signed into law Monday.

The new law calls for a phase-in of new overtime rules for California farm workers over four years starting in 2019.

It will gradually lower the current ten hour work day for farm worker overtime by half an hour each year until it reaches the standard eight hour day by the year 2022.

It also phases in a 40-hour work week for farm workers for the first time.

“Clients are very happy that they are now being seen as entitled to the same conditions that all other workers are entitled to”, says Santa Maria attorney Corrie Arellano with California Rural Legal Assistance, “they are looking forward to being able to make a sustainable living wage and continue to give and live in the community that they have been in for so long.”

Arellano and other advocacy groups that supported AB 1066 say its about giving California farm and field workers equitable working conditions under the law.

“Working in and under difficult conditions, its equitable to provide them the same pay rate that anyone else is getting under the circumstances”, Arellano says.

Critics of the landmark legislation say it will ultimately backfire against farm workers in California with shorter work weeks and reduced, labor-intensive agricultural production due to higher costs for growers and farmers.

“We were hoping he (Governor) would not sign it in light of two things, he already boosted the (state) minimum wage and secondly this water crisis has absolutely devastated agriculture throughout the state”, says Andy Caldwell with the Coalition for Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) in Santa Barbara County, “he couldn’t have thought of doing anything worse to agriculture than adding one more nail in the coffin.”

Caldwell says the multi-billion dollar agriculture industry in California is already the most regulated in the country.

“We were already paying more per hour and more in overtime than virtually any other state in the union”, Caldwell says, “the fact of the matter is we also compete with Mexico, we pay more per hour than they pay for a full day’s wage in Mexico, our farmers are not going to be able to compete.”

“I think what is going to happen is the farmers only have a couple of choices, one, nobody is going to be able to work overtime, even in the middle of a harvest which is going to make life difficult for both the farmers and the farmworkers”, Caldwell says, “they simply won’t be able to afford it, two, this will push for mechanization, and three, if they can’t mechanize, I think they will end up switching crops toward those that lend themselves to mechanization.”

“We’ve heard that argument and its kind of ironic in our particular area where there’s claims of a shortage of workers, and we’re bringing in H-2(a) workers which are workers that don’t reside in our community”, Corrie Arellano says, “so to say that their hours will be reduced when we have a worker shortage seems to be counter-intuitive.”

The Governor can suspend the new overtime rules process at anytime for up to one year depending on the current economic condition in the state.

Agriculture industry advocates were quick to condemn the Governor’s signing of AB 1066 into law.

“The Governor has set in motion a chain of events that will cause workers in our fields to lose wages. It is one thing to dismiss the rationale for a seasonal industry to have a 10-hour overtime threshold rather than an eight-hour threshold. It something entirely worse to dismiss economic reality”, said Western Growers Association President and CEO Tom Nassif in a statement Monday, “our farmers compete with farmers in other states and countries with no overtime costs, far lower minimum wages, reliable water supplies and far less regulatory burden. California farmers will have no choice but to avoid even higher costs of production and they will utilize a number of strategies, including reducing work shifts and production of crops that require large numbers of employees.”

“The box stores, grocery chains and restaurant companies that buy fresh produce can and will purchase from growers in other states and countries to keep prices down”, Nassif says in the statement, “they don’t care about the high costs of operating in California. Neither, apparently, do a majority of the California Legislature or the Governor.”

“We are extremely disappointed that this legislation was signed into law, as it will be harmful to farm employees, farmers, consumers and the environment”, said California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger in a prepared statement, “those who work on California farms will see reduced paychecks and have their lives disrupted as these new worker overtime rules come into play.California consumers will have fewer opportunities to buy California-grown farm products that are produced under the most stringent food safety, employment and environmental rules in the world.”

“Legislation such as AB 1066 only works if California consumers buy California farm products and opt not to buy cheaper food products from sources outside of California that do not meet the same labor and environmental stewardship standards that our farm products do”, Wenger says in the statement, “it is unfortunate that those who will suffer the economic consequences of this ill-conceived statute are not the ones that wrote it and passed it into law.”

“We are very concerned with the impact this action will have on California agriculture”, said Claire Wineman with the Central Coast Grower-Shipper Association in a statement, “California agriculture competes with other states and countries with fewer regulations and lower business costs and usually can’t pass on increases in production costs to buyers and consumers. We are particularly concerned with the impacts on weekly earnings opportunities for farmworkers as hours and overall production are reduced in response to this action.”

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