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Lawmakers shake down farmers for unions


Editorial


When they aren't running the state's finances into the ground, California legislators are good at spending OPM -- Other People's Money -- to curry favor with special interests.


After all, they have spent the state $19 billion into the red, so they have to tap the pocketbooks of farms and other businesses in other ways to make points with unions and other groups.


The latest example is legislation that would require farmers to pay overtime to workers after an 8-hour day or a 40-hour week. Currently farmworkers receive overtime after a 10-hour day or a 60-hour week.


While the overtime proposal mirrors what the state requires of other industries, agriculture is not just another industry. During certain times of the year -- particularly harvest -- the work must be done. To say that farmers should either stop their harvest or vastly increase their expenses to please legislators is unreasonable.


This costly proposal ignores the economics and the realities of farming. When they are ripe, crops must be harvested. They cannot wait until tomorrow or the next day or they will be worthless.


While the United Farm Workers and other unions believe the proposal is dandy, it will wreak havoc with farmers, who cannot and do not set the prices they receive for their crops. As price-takers, they operate within a complex economic system based on many factors. The cost of labor is not one of them.


Ironically, if passed, the legislation would actually throw more farmworkers out of a job instead of providing them with higher wages. Farmers will look for alternative crops that can be harvested mechanically or require less manual labor. Either way, farm workers stand to lose.


If California legislators want to impress the people of the Golden State, they can stop coming up with ways to tap farmers' pocketbooks and come up with a plan for balancing the state's budget.


At the rate they've been working on it, that'll keep them busy for a good long while.



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