s
s
Sections
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

As Gov. Jerry Brown weighs whether to sign legislation that will give farmworkers the same overtime pay as other hourly workers, Sonoma County farmers and their employees are already contemplating the ramifications to the county’s agriculture industry.

Farmworkers said they welcome the opportunity to be treated like other workers; they currently do not receive overtime pay until after they’ve worked 60 hours a week or more than 10 hours per day. It’s a tradition that goes back to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when farmworkers were excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938.

On Monday, the state Assembly approved legislation introduced by Assemblyman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, that would require that farmworkers get paid overtime after working 40 hours a week or more than eight hours a day. The legislation would be implemented in 2022 and give those with 25 or fewer employees an additional three years to comply.

“This is a very important step because we work so much. Ten hours a day is our normal. It’s overtime after that. This is a just decision. The workforce in offices, restaurants or construction get overtime after eight hours worked, so why are we being left behind when we bring food to people’s table?” said Jahaziel Reyes, 33, of Santa Rosa, who has been a farmworker for the last 10 years.

Vineyard managers, however, said the move will likely spur more machine-grape picks in the North Coast ­­because they will likely not be able to pass additional labor costs on to wineries. When farmers look to replant a vineyard, they will likely ensure that it has enough spacing between the rows to handle machines, vintners said, a trend that is commonplace now in the Central Valley, which produces less expensive grapes.

“It will be incumbent on us to figure how to do all this work in 40 hours a week,” said Duff Bevill of Bevill Vineyard Management in Healdsburg.

Bevill said that farmworkers will ultimately receive less weekly pay if the bill is enacted, because farmers will look to hold down costs and avoid overtime. That will likely force workers to pick up second jobs with different vineyard management firms to cover any shortfall, work that also will not result in overtime pay.

“We said all along that the workers are going to be hurt on this deal,” Bevill said.

Led by wine grapes, Sonoma County’s crops are valued at more than $750 million, accounting for just a fraction of the money farming and its attendant workforce generates for the local economy.

The labor issue is especially pressing for the area’s dairy farmers because milk pricing is regulated by the state, making it even more difficult to pass on costs to processors. Sonoma County’s milk crop in 2015 commanded nearly $120 million, buoyed by growth in the pricier organic milk segment.

“It’s going to put a bunch of guys out of business, or they’re going to move out of state,” said George Mertens, a Sonoma dairy farmer who works with his two sons and employs about nine farmworkers.

Because of lower payments this year from milk processors, California’s dairy farmers already are selling conventional grade milk at a loss, Mertens said. If the overtime legislation becomes law, “our costs are going to be that much more.”

In fact, the struggle facing dairy farmers was cited by two local lawmakers as the reason they could not support the bill despite a strong lobbying campaign by the United Farm Workers and its labor allies.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, voted against an earlier version of the bill this summer and was absent during Monday’s vote as he attended a retirement ceremony for a top aide. Levine said Gonzalez wouldn’t adjust her bill to take in the concerns of his local dairy farmers and thus, he couldn’t support it.

“It was my concern that North Bay’s fragile dairy economy would be impacted by this bill,” Levine said.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, abstained as well, and said he was troubled by the impact on local dairies and flower growers, even though he sympathizes with the plight of farmworkers.

“This bill is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not provide the flexibility small farms need to address the unique challenges of each product’s harvest seasons or the external pressures of fixed pricing on products like milk and competition faced by flower growers from other countries such as South America,” Wood said in a statement.

Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa, voted against the bill and said in a statement, “I’m supportive of what it’s trying to do, but I want to ensure that changes are balanced and crafted in a way that minimizes unintended negative consequences.”

But UFW president Arturo S. Rodriguez said in an interview that concessions were made, especially in giving small providers additional time, up to a maximum of nine years, to comply with the law.

The union noted farmworkers were excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act because of opposition from Southern lawmakers, who did not want to bestow such rights on the then largely African-American agricultural labor force.

“There was an opportunity to right a wrong that took place 78 years ago,” Rodriguez said.

The bill passed the state Senate Aug. 22 on a 21-14 vote, with Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, absent and Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, voting for it. She was the only member of the local delegation to support it.

The tenor of the debate changed last week when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, vowed to do whatever he could to get the bill passed after a similar version failed by four votes in the Assembly in June, said Blackney, director of government relations for the California Association of Winegrape Growers, which opposed the bill.

“They started feeling the political pressure,” Blackney said of wavering Assembly Democrats. He added that abstentions are typically a soft way to oppose a bill, as the Assembly needs 41 votes for passage.

Unions were helped by workers who lobbied in Sacramento and told their personal stories, Rodriguez said, which helped put the issue on personal terms. “I don’t think farmworkers are different than any other occupation,” Rodriguez said.

Brown has given no indication as to what he will do, though both Rodriguez and Blackney expressed optimism that he could lean their way.

Antonio Campa, 62, who has been a farmworker for 38 years for Gallo of Sonoma and works under a UFW contract, said he welcomed the bill’s passage.

“Almost all of us work now the 10 hours just to get by. And some of us work six days a week to get some overtime and make enough to pay the bills. This decision is great because we’ve been pushing it for so many years and nothing happened. If this doesn’t happen until 2022, it’s still good,” said Campa.

Staff Writer Robert Digitale contributed to this report.