Farmworker bill would increase overtime pay
Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 5:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 11:10 a.m.
The vegetable farm that Humberto Castaneda Jr.'s family operates east of Forestville employs about 50 workers who pick peppers, squash, tomatillos and tomatoes by hand.
In Castaneda's view, giving these workers the same overtime benefits as those in other industries is a "bad idea."
"Not a lot of farmers can pay overtime. Crops are going to go bad," Castaneda said.
But others say California farmworkers should be paid overtime like everyone else as a matter of fairness and equality.
"It's about ending discrimination," said Maria Machuca, a spokeswoman for the United Farm Workers union.
The union requested that Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, sponsor legislation that would change the overtime policies for thousands of California farmworkers.
Under Allen's bill, farmworkers would be paid time-and-a-half after they have worked eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Currently, these workers get overtime after 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week.
The measure, which is similar to a 2010 bill vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was approved Monday by the state Senate and is headed to an Assembly labor committee. Political observers expect the bill soon will land on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.
When he was governor in 1976, Brown signed legislation that established the current overtime rules for California farmworkers. Allen said he doesn't know whether Brown supports changing those rules again.
"I can't give you a bead on it," Allen said Tuesday.
According to Allen's staff, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 excluded the nation's farmworkers from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to gain the votes needed in Congress to pass the landmark job protections. At the time, most of the nation's farmworkers were black.
Allen said California farmworkers labor hard for low pay. A factsheet put out by his office said Assembly Bill 1313 would "correct a grievous wrong that can no longer be tolerated in a state that, time and time again, has set the standard for improving conditions on the job for working people."
"Every other classification of worker in this country, other than domestic workers, has enjoyed overtime for the last 75 years," Allen said.
The agricultural industry opposes Allen's bill on grounds that growers need flexibility with scheduling and the ability to have employees work longer hours at certain times because of changing weather patterns and the seasonality of the growing season.
"Agriculture is a completely different animal," said Duff Bevill, founder of Bevill Vineyard Management near Healdsburg. "You'll have days where it's raining and you don't work, or if it's harvest, where you work six weeks straight. You have ebbs and flows."
He predicted that if Allen's bill is signed into law, growers will simply cut workers' hours.
"They'll just simply make less money," Bevill said. "That's the reality of what's going to happen."
Allen said those were the same arguments opponents used when Brown agreed to the overtime rules in 1976.
He said his bill includes a provision whereby farmworkers -- unionized or not -- could vote to work 10-hour shifts without being paid overtime. They still would be paid overtime after working 40 hours a week, however.
"The only testimony that we are hearing that this is not in the best interests of the workers is from the growers. And frankly, they don't know what's best for workers," Allen said.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @deadlinederek.
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