Farmworker bill would increase overtime pay

  • Assemblyman Michael Allen (PD FILE, 2011)

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."

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