Gov. Jerry Brown and UFW president Cesar Chavez, 1979 (photo: People's Oral History Project)
By Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Farmworkers in the nation's largest agricultural state will be entitled to the same overtime pay as most other hourly workers under a law that California Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that he had signed.
The new 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.
In the state where Cesar Chavez successfully rallied farmworkers to demand union rights and more dignified working conditions, the legislation, AB1066, will gradually lower the number of hours that ranch hands and people who tend crops must work before accruing additional compensation.
Farmworkers will be entitled to time-and-a-half pay after eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week, up from 10 hours a day or 60 a week. The new rules will take full effect in 2022 for most businesses and in 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer employees.
"The hundreds of thousands of men and women who work in California's fields, dairies and ranches feed the world and anchor our economy," Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, the bill's author, said in a statement. "They will finally be treated equally under the law."
The measure passed after a strong push by the politically powerful United Farm Workers. Farming groups warned it will cause severe hardships for one of California's largest industries.
Farm work, marked by crushing workloads during specific periods, has long been exempted from some of the labor standards enacted by the federal government beginning in the 1930s, including overtime pay.
Beginning in the 1960s, Chavez brought laborers together and formed the United Farm Workers in California's Central Valley, making California the epicenter of their struggle. He used the rallying cry "si se puede," or "yes we can," and became a celebrated civil rights leader, particularly among Latinos.
Brown, a Democrat, signed the historic bill granting farmworkers the right to unionize when he was governor in 1975. He has declined to comment on the overtime legislation all year and declined again Monday through spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman.
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.
However, farmworkers were again exempted when the state guaranteed overtime pay after eight hours in a day, not just 40 hours in a week, in 1999.
Opponents argued the seasonal nature of farm labor, with long hours crucial to sow and harvest during specific weather and growing periods, 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.
The obligation to care for animals "doesn't always adhere to an eight-hour day, 40-hour work week," said Justin Oldfield, vice president of government relations for the California Cattlemen's Association.
Producers can't afford to pay workers overtime for 60-hour weeks and stay competitive, he said.
They are likely to hire more employees rather than pay overtime, he said, resulting in a pay cut for existing employees.
Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, called the new law "a slap in the face" that will deprive farmworkers of needed income. "Sometimes, the best intentions can have the worst consequences," Mathis said.
Brown also announced Monday that he had signed SB1015 by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, permanently extending what had been a temporary 2013 law requiring employers to pay domestic workers such as nannies, caregivers and housekeepers time-and-a-half if they work more than nine hours in a day or more than 45 hours in a week.
Associated Press writers Alison Noon and Don Thompson contributed to this report.