California: Despite growers’ cry, farmworkers entitled to overtime pay


California made history again September 12, 2016, when governor Jerry Brown signed a bill entitling farmworkers to receive overtime pay. Bill AB 1066 was introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Sanchez (D-San Diego) and will be phased in starting in 2019. It will take full effect in 2022 for most businesses and in 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer farmworkers.
Plenty of time of growers and agricultural corporations to mechanize their operations and to learn new tricks to reduce working hours to avoid paying such overtime.

Yet, the cry of growers is loud and they are voicing their intentions to avoid employing farmworkers for more than 40 hours per week. Their patronizing and paternalistic message regarding the negative effects of the new law exposes their anger and arrogance. They claim farmworkers will get smaller paychecks and they also repeat the argument that fresh products will cost more.
They almost predict a catastrophe while trying to instill fear.
Same arguments when recently California approved an increase on the minimum salary —up to $15 by 2022.
The new law ends a 78-year exclusion of farmworkers for receiving overtime pay as established by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which as a matter of fact perpetuated an agricultural subsidy at the expense of farmworkers, keeping them at the lowest level of the social stratus.
California is the largest agricultural state in the country, in which social inequality and poverty of farmworkers are rampant.
Annually, the average income of crop workers is between $10,000 to $12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family, according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), a report published by the US Department of Labor. The federal poverty line is $10,830 for an individual or $22,050 for a family of four (in 2009).

Thus, according to NAWS, 30% of all farm workers had total family incomes below the poverty line. Nothing new.
Still, conservative public officers representing agricultural areas such as the San Joaquin Valley, California, constantly insist on covering up this reality and justifying the huge social and economical gap.

For instance, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), constantly opposes any bill or effort to increase salaries and/or benefits for workers of all kind with the excuse businesses will suffer —particularly small ones— putting them out of business or being forced to reduce their work force. Thus, according to this conservative-repeated argument, nothing should be done or changed and workers should stay where they are without even complaining or unionizing.

As a complementary component, conservatives work hard to keep an awkward cultural environment for the less fortunate people while they and their children have access to better education and social opportunities.
Most likely, California’s new law will not affect neither the agricultural industry nor the farmworkers’ income dramatically. However, this will not stop growers and their allies like Patterson, to cry and predict catastrophic events each time California has a new law seeking a modest improvement of workers’ life.

By the way, while growers need farmworkers, does agriculture need growers? For instance, if growers are replaced by co-ops or other land-property or land management system, perhaps society in rural areas could experiment a social and cultural advancement which could lead to a better life style, more fair and more just.

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