A bill that would make farmworkers in California eligible for overtime pay is in front of the State Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee tomorrow, as reported by the Sacramento Bee. Advocates for the bill have been lobbying for years for the legislature to consider it, and are hopeful that Governor Jerry Brown, who signed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, will soon have a chance to pass it into law. The bill will make California the first state to recognize farmworkers as equally protected under the overtime laws as all other hourly workers, and if it passes it will be a victory for employee rights activists across the nation.
Assembly Bill 1313, introduced last fall by Assemblyman Michael Allen D-Santa Rosa, would require California employers to pay overtime to their farmworker employees at time and a half for any hours worked over 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act already requires overtime pay for hourly workers for any hours over 40 in a week, and California law additionally requires overtime for any hours worked over 8 hours a day. Farmworkers, however, have been excluded from both protections from the start, and were even exempted from the protections for union organizing under the National Labor Relations Act. This was due mainly to political reasons: for the FLSA and NLRA to pass, Congress had to acquiesce to Southern politicians’ demands that the millions of mostly minority domestic and agricultural workers be exempted from the labor protections of both Acts, including the minimum wage and overtime provisions. The California labor law had a similar history, with the politically marginalized mostly minority agricultural and domestic workers mostly excluded from the state law protections as well.
It wasn’t until 1975 when Governor Jerry Brown during his first governorship of California passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act that farmworkers were afforded any labor law protections in the state at all. That statute created a mechanism for farmworkers to organize unions and afforded them similar state law protections as those under the NLRA for their activities. Governor Brown also passed a statute requiring overtime pay for farmworkers for any hours worked over 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week. Although much less protective than that for most non-exempt workers overall, it still put California in the forefront in the nation in protecting its agricultural workers.
Farmworkers have been lobbying for years to be included in the general protections of California’s labor laws, and be paid fairly for all hours they work. In 2010 farmworkers were successful in having a bill set in front of then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that would do just that and require overtime for any hours worked by farmworkers over 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, arguing that it would be detrimental to California’s agricultural industry. Now with Governor Jerry Brown back in power, many farmworkers hope that his history as a strong advocate for farmworker rights will finally assure their victory.
While politics may upset the hopes of farmworkers in California this time– after all, Governor Brown just last year vetoed legislation that would have allowed them to unionize more easily- it is clear that the time will come when exploitation of all workers will no longer be acceptable. With the recent push by the Department of Labor to include more workers under the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, it seems that historical arguments for exempting certain workers from the labor laws may no longer hold water. If Governor Brown passes this landmark bill next month it will send a strong message across the country that employment and labor rights are meant for all.