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.”