By Sean Raycraft
Monday, August 22 the California State Senate passed AB 1066 by a vote of 21-14 with four Senators abstaining or absent. The advancement of the bill is a hard fought victory for farm workers and their allies. In order to get the needed votes, the bill’s authors had to accept amendments that will significantly lengthen the period of implementation to nine years for small agricultural operations with less than 25 employees. The bill now moves to back to the state Assembly, where it faces fierce opposition by Republicans and business aligned moderate Democrats. The bill would have never advanced, had it not been for the courage of our Senator, Lois Wolk. Her vote was decisive in putting the bill over the top. Here is what she had to say about the bill, and the process.
“We’ve come to a point where the status quo is no longer defensible. There must be an improvement in the material well-being of agricultural workers. We have to move forward, and we have to do it together—agricultural and urban communities, agricultural and environmental interests, everyone must be brought to the table. Unfortunately, a compromise didn’t occur on this bill. But these lowest paid workers shouldn’t be the ones to pay the price for that failure. They deserve the same protections of other workers in other industries.”
Last week, I and many others, including current Senate District 3 candidate Mariko Yamada, and many Democratic legislators participated in a 24 hour long fast in solidarity with farm workers. While our stomachs were grumbling with hunger, our current Assembly member and Senate district 3 candidate Bill Dodd was holding a fundraiser in Davis. The minimum contribution per plate was $250 for an evening of fine food and fine wine. I am fairly certain the guests and Mr. Dodd felt no such hunger pains. Between his donors and the independent expenditures on his behalf, spending for his campaign has ballooned to nearly two million dollars, and it is not even September yet. People who can spend that kind of money on politics typically eat very well.
I asked Bill Dodd’s office for a position statement regarding the issue of farm worker overtime conceptually, and AB 1066 specifically. Unfortunately, my efforts have been met by silence. However, his actions speak volumes about his opinions on the subject. He voted no on the previous version of the bill, AB 2757. I also have heard from many reliable sources that he will not support overtime for farm workers, and that he was quite blunt in saying so.
In contrast, when I asked Mariko Yamada for a statement on this subject, here is what she said:
“”I find this issue pretty straightforward, really. You’re either for equity and fundamental fairness in the fields, or, you’re not. AB 1066 delays overtime on farms that employ 25 or fewer workers until 2025–that’s NINE YEARS from now. I’ve been on record since 2010 in support of farmworker overtime, unlike my opponent. It’s clear whose side he’s on.”
Assuming AB 1066 miraculously passes, farm workers will have to wait 78 years to be have the same protections as everyone else. The only reasons farm workers were exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act were overtly racist ones. To put this in perspective I am going to quote Democratic Representative J. Mark Wilcox of Florida while debating the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1937.
“Then there is another matter of great importance in the South, and that is the problem of our Negro labor. There has always been a difference in the wage scale of white and colored labor. So long as Florida people are permitted to handle the matter, this delicate and perplexing problem can be adjusted; But the Federal Government knows no color line and of necessity it cannot make any distinction between the races. We may rest assured, therefore, that … it will prescribe the same wage for the Negro that it prescribes for the white man. … Those of us who know the true situation know that it just will not work in the South. You cannot put the Negro and the white man on the same basis and get away with it. Not only would such a situation result in grave social and racial conflicts but it would also result in throwing the Negro out of employment and in making him a public charge.”
Over the last several months, I have written extensively about AB 1066, institutional racism in the labor code and some of the many hardships faced by farm workers here in Yolo County. No one in 2016 could reasonably justify the arguments of Rep. J. Mark Wilcox. His racist and abhorrent commentary have no place in a civilized society. Sadly, 78 years later, the exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 are still on the books. Our lawmakers have allowed this relic of institution racism persist to their great collective shame. Right now, our lawmakers have an opportunity to right 78 year wrong, and it is long past time they took it.
On June 2 of this year, a very similar bill (AB 2757) failed to advance in the assembly because several Democrats either voted no, or did not vote, including Sacramento area Democrats Jim Cooper, Ken Cooley, and Bill Dodd. It is very likely they will have an opportunity to redeem themselves on Thursday, when AB 1066 will likely come up for a floor vote. If you are reading this, I implore you to contact your legislators and ask them to be on the side of Cesar Chavez, and not on the side of Rep. J. Mark Wilcox .
Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident and a proud shop steward with UFCW 8