In historic move, California expands overtime to farmworkers

Farmworker Florentino Reyes picks tomatoes Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, at a field near Mendota, Calif. Farmworkers such as Florentino would be eligible for overtime pay after working eight hours a day or 40 hours a week under a bill headed to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. If it becomes law, it would put California at the forefront nationally of farm labor pay and mark a victory in the fight to improve farmworkers' rights in a decade's old movement launched by Cesar Chavez. (AP Photo/Scott Smith)


SACRAMENTO — California farmworkers will be entitled to the same overtime pay as most other hourly laborers under a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The law, which will be phased in beginning in 2019, is the first of its kind in the nation to end the 80-year-old practice of applying separate labor rules to agricultural laborers.

Employers in California, the nation’s largest agricultural state, currently must pay time-and-a half to farmworkers after 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. That’s longer than the overtime pay for other workers, who get it after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

AB1066 will gradually lower the number of hours that irrigators, ranch hands and people who sow and harvest fields must work before accruing additional compensation.

It will take full effect in 2022 for most businesses and in 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer employees.

Brown, a Democrat, signed the bill following a push by the United Farm Workers union and its allies, who say exempting farmworkers from labor laws is racist and unfair. The governor had declined to comment on the bill throughout the legislative process and again on Monday through spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman.

Juan Garcia, internal coordinator for the UFW’s Santa Rosa office, said the governor’s signature will end a “Jim Crow-era” practice that discriminated against farmworkers.

“Farmworkers won’t view themselves as lower-class citizens,” he said. “They will see themselves as another part of the state’s economy.”

Opponents argued the seasonal nature of farm work does not lend itself to overtime. They said the legislation would raise costs for farmers and make it more difficult for them to compete with rivals in other states and countries, and that added costs would force employers to cut workers’ hours, ultimately hurting hundreds of thousands of farmworkers in California.

“The consumer is not going to say, ‘I’m going to buy a California wine because they treat their workers better. That’s not how it has worked. Ask anyone who’s bought a TV from China,” said Mike Martini, a partner and general manager of Taft Street Winery in the Russian River Valley.

Martini said he understands the “emotional aspects” of paying farmworkers overtime. But practically speaking, he predicted many grape growers and vineyard managers in Sonoma County will trim hours, turn to mechanization or simply cut back on work in the fields to avoid paying overtime.

“It’s a math game,” he said.

Farmworkers have been exempt from overtime pay requirements since Congress approved the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 to outline workplace protections.

Farmworkers were again exempted in 1999 when California guaranteed overtime pay after eight hours in a day, not just 40 in a week.

California has for decades been a battleground over farmworker rights. Cesar Chavez brought together farmworkers and founded the UFW in the Central Valley in the 1960s, organizing thousands of workers who demanded better wages and working conditions.

California was the first state to give farmworkers collective bargaining rights, workers compensation and unemployment service. The state also requires that employers provide rest breaks and access to water and shade.

Staff Writer Derek Moore contributed to this report.