California, often a path-breaking state in the field of workers’ rights, has adopted legislation expanding the right to receive overtime pay for an estimated more than 825,000 farmworkers across the state.
The bill, promoted by the United Farm Workers of America, was signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown on September 12 after it was approved by the California State Legislature over significant opposition from some lawmakers. The bill endured a tortuous path through the legislative halls since it was first introduced on February 26, 2015. It amended the state Labor Code by removing existing exemptions for agricultural workers regarding hours of work, meal breaks, and other working conditions, including specified wage requirements, that had long protected other workers while excluding farmworkers.
The new law, called the “Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016,” will be phased in beginning in 2019 and take full effect for most farms by 2022, and in 2025 for small farms of 25 or fewer employees. California farmworkers will become the first in the U.S. to receive overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a day.
Beginning on January 1, 2022, the new law will require that any work performed by farmworkers in excess of eight hours in any one workday, or in excess of 40 hours in any one workweek, must be paid at one and one-half times the employee’s regular hourly rate of pay. The extra pay requirement will apply to all hours worked over eight hours in any workday or over 40 hours in any workweek. Additionally, work performed in excess of 12 hours in a single day must be compensated at the rate of no less than twice the employee’s regular hourly rate of pay.
When the United States Congress enacted the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938 it excluded agricultural workers from wage protections and overtime compensation requirements. The FLSA requires the payment of overtime to covered employees only on a weekly (but not a daily) basis.
United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez welcomed the new law by stating that, ”For 78 years, a Jim Crow-era law discriminated against farm workers by denying us the same overtime rights that other workers benefit from. Governor Brown has corrected a historic wrong and set an example for other states to follow.” Founded in 1962 by the late Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers of America is the nation’s largest farm workers union, currently active in 10 states.
California recently passed legislation that will increase that state’s $10.00 minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2022.
Prior to 1941, the California Labor Code had been silent on the issue of overtime pay for agricultural workers. That year the Legislature officially exempted all agricultural workers from the statutory requirements of overtime, just like the FLSA had done three years earlier. Until now, agricultural workers in California had been eligible for overtime compensation for all hours worked over 10 hours in any workday and for the first 8 hours on the seventh consecutive day of work.
In enacting the new law, the State Legislature declared that its intent was “to provide any person employed in an agricultural occupation in California with an opportunity to earn overtime compensation under the same standards as millions of other Californians.”
Some prominent business groups, led by the California Farm Bureau Federation and a coalition of agricultural producers, had lobbied against the bill, arguing that it would impose higher production costs on farmers and growers. California has a $54-billion annual agricultural economy.
Legislators opposed to the bill also argued that California farmers were already struggling with burdensome regulations and an ongoing water crisis. They predicted that the bill would backfire on hundreds of thousands of workers, as farmers and growers would probably have to limit their working hours and hire more employees in order to avoid overtime costs.
Florida does not have special minimum wage or overtime provisions for farmworkers, and follows the federal FLSA and its exemptions for those working in agriculture. Although exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA, agricultural employees generally must be paid the minimum wage, currently $8.05 in Florida, although there are a number of exemptions from minimum wage requirements.
The states with the highest farmworker populations are California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina. Nearly 80% of farmworkers are male, and most are younger than 31. Of all farmworkers in the United States, 75% were born in Mexico. According to a 2005 survey, 53% of farmworkers are undocumented.
The national median annual wage for agricultural workers was $20,090 in May 2015. Farm work is the second lowest paid job in the nation after domestic labor.
About the author: Angel Castillo, Jr. is a partner with DLD Lawyers with many years of experience in counseling clients in employment law matters and representing them in litigation, arbitrations, and administrative agency proceedings.