California Farmworkers Now Get Overtime Pay After 8 hours. Some Growers Say It’s a Problem

For the past two decades during the harvest season, 58-year-old farmworker Lourdes Cárdenas would wake up at 3 a.m. to get dressed, say her daily prayers and prepare lunch before driving an hour south from her home in Calwa to a farm in Huron. She’d pick crops like cherries, nectarines, and peaches from daybreak until sundown — at least 10 hours a day, six days a week.

There would be days where she wouldn’t get home until 7 p.m or 8 p.m., depending on traffic, she said. For many of those years, she was paid minimum wage. There was no overtime pay.

“It’s a long work day,” she said in Spanish. “I’d get home very late, exhausted. It’s very hard work being in the fields.”

For years, hundreds of thousands of farmworkers toiling in California’s agricultural heartland weren’t entitled to overtime pay unless they worked more than 10 hours a day. But that has changed due to a 2016 state law that’s been gradually implemented over four years. As of Jan. 1, California law requires that employers with 26 or more employees pay overtime wages to farmworkers after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

That means many farmworkers like Cárdenas will now be compensated time-and-a-half for working more than eight hours. It’s a change advocates say is long overdue to provide the agricultural labor force with the same protections afforded to other hourly workers. But opponents argue that the law — though well-intentioned — strains farmers who already operate on thin margins and confront other financial challenges. Employers also say the new rules will disadvantage workers, as they’ll likely reduce hours in an attempt to cut increasing labor costs.

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Under the law, which was authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, farmworkers began in 2019 to gradually receive the same overtime pay as employees in other industries. Farmworkers previously became eligible for overtime benefits after 10 hours, but the law has lowered the threshold for overtime pay by half an hour annually for the past three years, until reaching the standard eight hours this year.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Gonzalez said “none of my bills stole my heart more.”

The full implementation of the law for larger-scale growers marks the most recent win for labor advocates, who had been running a decades-long campaign to secure overtime pay for farmworkers. California is one of six states, alongside Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and Washington, to provide overtime pay to agricultural workers. Many states, however, only provide overtime pay after the 60-hour threshold has been met.

FRESNO GROWERS CONCERNED ABOUT FARMWORKER OVERTIME LAW

Eriberto Fernandez, the government affairs deputy director at the UFW Foundation, which sponsored the California bill, said the law secures a basic protection for a workforce that has long been exploited. He added that agricultural workers were excluded from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that gave most employees the right to minimum wage and overtime pay.

“It’s a very historic and momentous occasion for farmworkers that they now, for the first time in the history of agricultural labor, have the same rights as all other Californians do,” he said. “For the first time since the 1930s, equal overtime pay now also applies to farmworkers.”

Fernandez said the law will provide farmworkers with more quality time with their families. He also said farmworkers, many of whom work ten- to twelve-hour shifts during the peak harvest season, will be fairly compensated for their labor.

“This is about leveling the playing field for farmworkers,” he said. “We’re hoping that this new law now puts farmworkers on equal ground with all other industries in California.”

But many growers say the new law could do more damage than good.

Ryan Jacobsen, a farmer and Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO, said the law doesn’t address the needs of the farming industry, arguing that agriculture requires a unique set of rules because it is subject to changing weather and seasons. And unlike other businesses, the labor-intensive industry requires more flexibility on scheduling and working, especially during peak harvest times, he said.

“Most of these jobs in the industry are still seasonal in nature and there are times of the year where there’s more work than there is in other times of the year,” he said. “In the California ag industry, there was always — up until the passage of this bill — an understanding that these employees would be able to make up these hours during these shorter windows because there’s not as much availability of farm agricultural work (in other times of the year).”

Daniel Hartwig, a fourth generation grape farmer from Easton who also works as the procurement manager at Woolf Farming, agreed. He said that the law makes an already fickle industry even more complicated for growers.

Growers have been concerned about labor costs increasing, in part due to California regulations, Hartwig said. He said many growers are reducing their employees’ hours and transitioning to cultivating other crops that don’t require as much human labor. Instead of planting fruit trees, Hartwig has switched over to nuts like almonds and pistachios, he said.

“We can’t absorb those additional labor costs,” he said. “So we’ve just kind of refocused on making sure more of our crops are able to be mechanically harvested. Those are the choices we’re making. (The law) is hurting farmers, and it’s hurting the farm workers as well.”

Fresno County broke its own record for agricultural and livestock production in 2020, peaking at more than $7.98 billion, according to the crop report from county Agricultural Commissioner Melissa Cregan. Nuts were among the top earners. Almonds were the county’s top-grossing crop, earning $1.25 billion, while pistachios made up $761 million, the report found.

Fernandez, of the UFW Foundation, said it’s “unfortunate” that farmers are reducing hours for their employees given the county’s record-breaking years.

“These are the same arguments that we hear over and over again about how these laws are going to destroy agribusiness in California,” he said. “And if anything, we’ve seen the opposite — we’ve seen the California businesses thriving. For them, it’s a matter of economics and of profitability. They’re choosing to shorten worker hours to save money that they would otherwise have paid for overtime pay.”

CALIFORNIA FARMWORKER WAGES INCREASING

Farmworkers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the U.S, according to a 2021 report from The Economic Policy Institute. On average, farmworkers in 2020 earned about $14.62 per hour, “far less than even some of the lowest-paid workers in the U.S. labor force,” the report found. Farmworkers at that wage rate earned below 60% compared to what workers outside of agriculture made, according to the report.

Click here to read the full article at the Fresno Bee

California State Board Votes to Restrict Water to Farmers

Drought water cropsCalifornia’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) voted Wednesday to approve the Bay-Delta plan, which will re-allocate water from farms and cities to the environment in an effort to restore dwindling fish numbers.

The plan will require tributary rivers within the San Joaquin watershed to maintain an average water level of 40% of “unimpeded flow” — that is, the flow that would exist without human activity — during the spring season.

The result is that less water — “billions of gallons,” according to the Fresno Bee — will be available to the farming communities of the Central Valley, as well as to San Francisco and its suburbs, which rely on water from the area.

Last month, outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown and incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the SWRCB to delay its vote by a month to allow time for local water authorities to reach voluntary settlement agreements (VSAs) as an alternative to the new plan. In the interim, several local irrigation districts did, in fact, commit to investing in conservation and environmental projects that would theoretically help restore fish populations without giving up quite so much water.

But as the Bee reports, the SWRCB — all of whose members were appointed by Brown, and who are thought to be partial to environmental groups — passed the plan anyway “to put pressure on a group of holdout water agencies.”

The Trump administration has promised to take legal action to block the plan, which may be moot as a result. Some environmental groups have criticized the Bay-Delta plan for not going far enough.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Jerry Brown, the Farmers’ Friend

Jerry Brown 1.0 stood up to farmers 40 years ago while Jerry Brown 2.0 is standing up for farmers during the current drought crisis. In 1975, to the consternation of many framers, Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act allowing collective bargaining by farm workers. In 2015, Brown’s mandated 25 percent cutback on water usage for most Californians that largely left the farmers alone.

On ABC’s Sunday Show, This Week, Brown responded to host Martha Raddatz’s challenge that farmers use 80 percent of the state’s water but do not have to cut back like other users.

“The farmers have fallowed hundreds of thousands of acres of land. They’re pulling up vines and trees. Farm workers who are very low end of the economic scale here are out of work. There are people in agriculture areas that are really suffering,” Brown said.

The state’s agriculture business is certainly hurting. Just last year California agriculture lost $2.2 billion from drought conditions. With the drought conditions continuing agricultural losses are expected at least the same this year.

State and federal water allocations have been cut to zero.

Brown took a broad view of California’s drought reminding Raddatz that the drought’s affect on farmers do not only touch people in the Golden State. “They’re not watering their lawn or taking longer showers. They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America,” he said.

Farmers have been using water more efficiently over the last couple of decades. According to UC Davis professor Samuel Sandoval, “In the last 20 years, they’ve been increasing their efficiency between 10 and 12 percent.”

However, Brown made it clear that if the drought conditions worsen, even the farm country will be examined for ways to save water. For now the cutbacks will be aimed at coastal California and some of the state’s richer areas.

One side note that could be taken from all this, Brown clearly has a focus on the Central Valley. Whether you like it or not (and I don’t) his pet project bullet train was started in the Central Valley. And the Valley farmers will escape the initial water mandates.

Joel Fox is editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

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