SACRAMENTO — Farm groups are lining up against legislation that would do away with agricultural exceptions to California’s overtime laws.
A bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego, would phase in a requirement that ag employers observe the same eight-hour work day and 40-hour work week as other employers. State law now requires overtime to be paid to farmworkers who exceed 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week.
The bill has quickly drawn criticism from groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation and California Cattlemen’s Association, which assert that imposing the standard work week on agriculture could bring drastic cost increases and could prompt some growers to leave the state.
“It just doesn’t work in agriculture,” said Justin Oldfield, the CCA’s vice president of government relations. “We’re going to make every effort and do what we can to try and stop this thing … I will say it’s going to be a tough fight but we’re up for the challenge.”
Gonzalez’ Assembly Bill 2757 faces its first hearing in the chamber’s Labor and Employment Committee on April 6. It would gradually roll back the daily and weekly overtime threshold on farms until reaching the standard 8 and 40 hours, respectively, in 2020.
Farm Bureau members and others have raised their concerns in meetings with lawmakers this month. Growers said they’d have to more carefully manage labor costs during peak harvests, and cuts in hours could affect farmworkers and their families, the CFBF reported.
In the Imperial Valley, the new regulations could prompt more growers of vegetables and other annuals to plant their crops in Arizona or Mexico, where some have already gone because of California’s stricter labor and workers’ compensation laws, according to the CFBF.
Gonzalez, a former labor leader and the daughter of an immigrant farmworker, argues that few occupations are as physically demanding or exhausting as farm labor and that workers should have the same right to overtime pay as others in the food production chain.
She found an ally in former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner. In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders, Clinton argued the bill “reflects our shared commitment to fair and humane working conditions for those whose labor feed our nation and much of the world.”
Agriculture was fully exempt from overtime laws until 1976, when Brown — in his first stint as governor — signed legislation establishing the 10-hour day and 60-hour week standard on farms. California is now one of four states that require overtime pay for farm workers.
A bill similar to Gonzalez’ failed in the California Assembly in 2012, two years after then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed another such proposal.
Across the U.S., workers hired directly by the farm that employed them averaged 41 hours of work a week in July 2015, while California farmworkers averaged 43.6 hours, said Philip Martin, an emeritus agriculture and resource economics professor at University of California-Davis.
Most harvest workers are employed less than eight hours a day, but some work six days a week during harvests, Martin said in an email.
“Workers most likely to be affected by an 8/40 overtime requirement are irrigators and equipment operators, who often work 60 or more hours a week during busy periods,” he said.