The battle for fair pay and equitable overtime standards for agricultural workers has been a political movement in the US for some time now. Farm workers in California continuously work long hours in demanding conditions without fair wages but on August 29, 2016 California lawmakers passed a bill that would finally require the state’s agriculture industry to meet federal labor standards. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego introduced a four year plan which would phase-in the new overtime rules, beginning in 2019.
The current California law permits farm workers to be paid overtime only after working 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. The proposed bill lowers the threshold for overtime pay stating that anyone who works more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week should be eligible for overtime. Even with California’s high production and booming profit from agriculture, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts, the average income of agricultural workers is dramatically lower than the national average.
However, many businesses fear that this bill will actually cost farmers and growers much more. Due to other issues such as increased environmental regulations and a historical drought, critics say that if this bill is passed, it would only cause another financial strain. Opponents also stated that higher wages would actually backfire on the employees, forcing employers to cut hours or hire more workers.
It has been a long and hard fought battle, but on September 12, 2016, Governor Brown signed this historic bill, changing overtime laws for farm workers. This is a huge victory for farm workers but opponents still believe this bill is a “one-size-fits-all approach.” California is now the first state required to meet federal labor regulations regarding the agricultural industry and while there may be critics, those in favor believe this bill has been long overdue.