While the majority of the State Assembly voted to pass AB 1066, which grants California farm workers with overtime pay protections, one of those for whom the legislation was too large a bridge to walk over was Assemblymember Bill Dodd, a former Republican who has served our local Assembly District for nearly two years and now is the proverbial favorite to win the open State Senate 3rd District seat currently held by Lois Wolk.
AB 1066, sponsored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, getting 19 bills to the governor’s desk this term, passed the Assembly by a 44 to 32 margin.
The new electoral format pits the current Democratic Assemblymember Bill Dodd against his Democratic predecessor Mariko Yamada. And, while this has always seemed to be the case of the more moderate candidate against the more liberal one, the issue of overtime pay for farm workers is an issue that gives that different depth and focus that it did not have before.
Mariko Yamada, out of office and considered the underdog, has been out front on this issue. In a statement released on Tuesday, she stated, “I applaud the California Legislature for passing this long overdue legislation, which removes the overtime exemption for California’s farm workers. Three previous attempts to right this wrong were either vetoed or failed to clear the Assembly.”
She also used this as the opportunity to separate herself from Mr. Dodd, stating, “Most notably, my opponent Assemblyman Bill Dodd once again sided with wealthy agricultural interests and voted against farm workers and their families. One thing is clear – California deserves better leadership.”
“For 78 years, farm workers have been explicitly excluded from basic overtime protections afforded to every other group of California workers. Roughly 30 percent of households with farm worker income are below the poverty line, and 73 percent earn less than 200 percent of poverty,” the former Assemblymember continued.
Mariko Yamada also used this as a high-profile opportunity to point out her record: “I’m proud to have joined farm workers last week on the North Steps of the Capitol in a 24-hour fast to raise awareness of this historic issue. My record on justice for farm workers isn’t new. I voted for farm worker overtime six years ago in the fight for SB 1121 (Florez-2010) and again for AB 1313 (Allen-2012). In this race for State Senate, I’m proud to have the support of civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, SEIU California, AFSCME Council 57, and California’s nurses and teachers – because they know I will always fight for justice.”
Finally, she issued a challenge to her opponent, “I challenge Assemblymember Dodd to work a day in the fields with me, so he can experience the realities of this backbreaking work. Farm workers put food on our tables. They are the backbone of California’s agricultural economy.”
In contrast, Bill Dodd has been difficult to pin down on this issue. Mr. Dodd has generally been accessible as an Assemblymember, meeting with the Vanguard Editorial Board last spring to lay out his legislative agenda. However, on the issue of Farm Worker Overtime, he has been elusive and sources have told the Vanguard he seems to have been beaten down by the criticism.
While the 3rd Senate District is reliably Democratic in terms of registered voters and voting records, it also tends to be more agricultural and moderate. Nevertheless, 1066 gives Ms. Yamada a real opening to differentiate herself on an issue that has been fairly high profile.
Finally, on Wednesday evening, Bill Dodd’s legislative team issued a statement.
“I had concerns with the bill that weren’t worked out, so I wasn’t able to support it,” said Assemblymember Dodd. “I’m supportive of what it’s trying to do, but I want to ensure that changes are balanced and crafted in a way that minimizes unintended negative consequences.”
So what specifically did he have a problem with?
He responded, “For example, this bill will be a significant burden on those commodities and industries that can’t adjust prices due to federal price setting. And that will ultimately hurt California’s farmworkers in those areas.”
That comes from the legislative side of the aisle. Meanwhile, the campaign has studiously avoided this issue in its entirety. For an operation that has been exceedingly well run, both in 2014 when he had to defeat Dan Wolk and Joe Krovoza to win the seat and in 2016, as he goes up against his predecessor, this seems to be the first time where the team is marked with uncertainty and trepidation.
This issue has a chance to become the defining issue in a race between two Democrats where there is not a huge amount of daylight between them on the issues.
It is a bit surprising that the Dodd campaign hasn’t been more aggressive to get out in front of this issue.
The technical and vague response by Mr. Dodd’s legislative office pales in comparison to the heartfelt and impassioned challenge by Mariko Yamada’s campaign team.
How will this play out in a district that would seem to favor Bill Dodd overall? Hard to know. But stay tuned, as we haven’t hit Labor Day just yet – in more ways than one.
—David M. Greenwald reporting; Sean Raycraft contributed to this report