California farmers are known for being some of the largest exporters of produce in the nation and now state lawmakers have passed an overtime pay bill to ensure these farmers are paid in accordance to their grueling labor. The overtime bill, if passed by the governor, would make California the first state to require the agricultural industry to meet Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) standards already adhered to by most other industries.
The new overtime law, which passed by a 44-32 vote, would take action in 2019 by gradually expanding overtime pay to all of California’s estimated 825,000 farm laborers. Under the state’s current labor law, only farmers who work in excess of 10 hours are eligible for overtime pay. However, the goal of the new legislation is to bring the agricultural industry in line with national standards, so, by 2022, any farm laborer working more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week would receive overtime pay.
“The whole world eats the food provided by California farmworkers,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill, told Mother Jones, “yet we don’t guarantee fair overtime pay for the backbreaking manual labor they put in to keep us fed… We’re now one step closer to finally providing our hard-working farmworkers the dignity they deserve.”
Many of the bill’s supporters, such as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, believe that farm workers need to be granted the same pay protections as the rest of California due to the state’s strong dependence on farming. What many people are unaware of is that more than one-third of all vegetables and two-thirds of all fruit and nuts sold in the U.S. are grown in the Golden State.
Mother Jones reports that more than $50 billion of the state’s revenue was raked in by its agricultural industry. However, a study by Farm Worker Justice shows that farmers only make an average of less than $18,000 a year. Other studies confirm this inequality showing that California’s farmers struggle financially to feed their families.
United Farm Workers (UFW), the largest union for farm workers as well as a key sponsor of the overtime pay legislation, believes the restriction of overtime pay from agricultural workers dates back to the Jim Crow era when most farmworkers were African-American. Congress passed the FLSA back in 1938 with the exemption of agricultural employers to appease white Southern lawmakers, its representatives explained.
“Today, 78 years later, when farm workers are mainly Latino, this shameful legacy of racism and discrimination still infects our society,” UFW said in a statement. “Excluding farm workers from overtime after eight hours was wrong in 1938. It’s wrong now.”
Source: Mother Jones