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California Farmworkers Win Right to Overtime Pay in Historic New Law


Agricultural workers in California are now eligible for overtime wages thanks to new legislation signed into law by the Governor.  This is the first time since the early twentieth century that such rights have been recognized

Assembly Bill 1066 will grant farmworkers the right to overtime pay for tie worked beyond the 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which created America’s 40-hour work week, overtime pay, and a federal minimum wage, exempted farm workers from these protections. Currently, state laws don’t even provide overtime pay to workers until they go beyond 10 hours of work.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill in 2010, stating that “agricultural work is different from other industries” and noting that farm work is “seasonal, subject to unpredictability and requires the harvesting of perishable goods.”

The passage of the historic measure last week was strongly opposed by the farming industry. It claimed that the measures would be a blow to a sector already under immense stress from the historic California droughts and high competition from other states. The new rules will be phased in over time, with the 10-hour standard being reduced by a half hour every year beginning in 2019, until the 8-hour standard fully kicks in in 2022.

The United Farm Workers (UFW) celebrated the bill’s passage, and thanks lawmakers for “making a tough decision like this and changing the course of history.” ‎UFW president Arturo Rodriguez made a statement after the bill’s signing where he noted, “For 78 years, a Jim Crow-era law discriminated against farm workers by denying us the same overtime rights that other workers benefit from. Here in the U.S. Today, Governor Brown corrected a historic wrong and set an example for other states to follow.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) argues that the new overtime rules would reduce hours for farm workers, and raise food prices for consumers. Paul Wenger, president of the CFBF, released a  statement claiming that “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.”

Brown did not comment following his signature of the bill. The governor has remained quiet about his motives for pushing the measure through, and according to the Sacramento Bee, and he declined to discuss the legislation with the editorial board during a recent press conference.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez also responded to the new rules in a statement that, “we all depend on [California farm workers’] work to feed and care for our families, but far too often they can’t afford to put food on their own dinner tables.” Perez went on to praise Brown, stating that the new law would, “ensure critical overtime protections for these workers.”
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