Monday Morning Thoughts: Farmworker Overtime Bill is One Small Step

Farm-Worker-BW

Sí, se puede!  is the cry of empowerment that has been pushed from the fields and the picket lines into the mainstream political discourse in the last two decades.  Fifty-one years ago this week, on September 8, 1965, Filipino pickers walked off the fields in Delano in Kern County.

Two weeks later, Mexican workers joined them.  The strike would go on for five years, until table-grape growers were forced to sign labor contracts in 1970. The strike in Delano brought to prominence, among others, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

An article in the Chronicle last year noted, “The 1965 Delano strike was a product of decades of worker organizing and earlier farmworker strikes. It took place the year after civil rights and labor activists forced Congress to repeal Public Law 78 and end the bracero contract labor program. Farmworker leaders then acted because growers could no longer bring braceros into the United States to break strikes.”

Moreover, the strike did not begin in Delano, the paper reports.  Earlier Filipino workers went on strike in Coachella in Riverside County.  There they won a 40 cent an hour wage increase, while forcing authorities to drop criminal charges against arrested strikers.

Six months later, Cesar Chavez and his group, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), later to be called UFW (United Farm Workers), would lead a strike of grape pickers on a march from Delano to the State Capitol in Sacramento.

While the struggle began 50 years ago, the struggle continues to this day.  One week ago, legislation by California State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (San Diego), which would establish equitable overtime standards for farmworkers in line with other Californians, was approved on a bipartisan 44-32 vote by the Assembly.  The bill now sits on the governor’s desk.

Beginning in 2019, Assembly Bill 1066 would gradually phase in standards for farmworker overtime, lowering the current 10-hour day level to the standard 8-hour day, and establishing for the first time a 40-hour standard work week, over a four-year period.

Beginning in 2019, the phase-in would be by annual half-hour-per-day increments until reaching eight hours, and annual five-hour-per-week increments until reaching 40 hours. Both final standards would be achieved in 2022.

AB 1066 additionally authorizes the governor to temporarily suspend a scheduled phase-in of overtime at any time until full implementation of phase-in overtime requirements or January 1, 2022, whichever comes first, if the governor suspends minimum wage increases based on economic conditions.

“The whole world eats the food provided by California farmworkers, yet we don’t guarantee fair overtime pay for the backbreaking manual labor they put in to keep us fed,” said Assemblymember Gonzalez. “We know this is the right thing to do, and thanks to the hard work of an incredible coalition throughout the state and across the country, we’re now one step closer to finally providing our hard-working farmworkers the dignity they deserve.”

In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which established the minimum wage, record keeping, child labor standards and overtime pay eligibility. However, the FLSA failed to include agricultural workers throughout the United States, and in 1941, the state legislature officially exempted all agricultural workers from statutory requirements of overtime.

In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation establishing a modified standard for these workers which is still in effect today, with a 10-hour day and 60-hour week. Those 40-year-old overtime thresholds for agricultural workers haven’t been updated since.

In March, the importance of legislation to normalize overtime rules for California farmworkers received strong backing in a letter from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said that “it reflects our shared commitment to fair and humane working conditions for those whose labor feed our nation and much of the world.”

In 2014, California’s farms and ranches brought in $54 billion in revenue. More than 90 percent of California farmworkers are Latino and more than 80 percent are immigrants. Recent data also found the median personal income of California farmworkers to be just $14,000.

If Governor Brown wishes to crown his legacy and honor his historical commitment to the rights of farmworkers, he would sign this legislation on Thursday of this week, the 51st anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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18 Comments

  1. quielo

    There is an interesting article in the LA Times today by their Sacramento guy, George Skelton. In summation

    “The California Legislature capped its two-year session by passing a load of liberal bills to help poor people, including farmworkers. That’s good, but what about middle-class folks? They were snubbed again. Ignoring the declining middle class has become the norm, both in Sacramento and Washington.”

     

     

    1. Tia Will

      quielo

      That’s good, but what about middle-class folks? They were snubbed again. Ignoring the declining middle class has become the norm, both in Sacramento and Washington.”

      I have several thoughts about this.

      First, I do not believe that it is entirely true. We are starting to see some movement on items that will help the middle class such as increasing the minimum wage ( I know that is controversial, but that is how I see it, movement on extending family leave which will help mothers and children bond ( not exclusively middle class – but definitely a help for them) , California’s belated push to have more California students admitted to rather than to continue to favor out of state and out of country applicants.

      True we are not seeing a huge quantity of policy changes aimed at helping the middle class. But then, my philosophy is that those most in need deserve the most attention initially, then we can move forward to help those not in such dire straits.

      Or, we could completely restructure and offer everyone a UBI.

        1. hpierce

          “increasing the minimum wage” is a problem?  To the extent that it catches up to the inflation-adjusted minimum wage of the 60’s?

          I haven’t ‘pounded out the numbers’, but I see no reason why the minimum wage wouldn’t reflect inflation (‘real inflation’, not ‘selected parameters’) since it was instituted… when I was in HS, worked for less than minimum wage ($45-60/week, 6 days), except with my room and board taken care of by my parents or the employer, I was ‘good’.  In college, I worked for a tiny bit more than minimum wage… it was not “living wage”, but between scholarship $, parental support, it paid for tuition low then), books, housing, and the occasional ‘treat’… the minimum wage, in my opinion, should catch up with historical levels (adjusted), and indexed to a realistic COL/inflation index.

          Someone earning minimum wage should not expect to own their own home.  They should (if they can) invest in their education, experience, and move beyond that ‘minimum’.

      1. quielo

        “my philosophy is that those most in need deserve the most attention initially, then we can move forward to help those not in such dire straits.” I would refer to Mark 14.7 “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”

        Skelton’s point is that Trumpism is driven by the lack of attention to the middle class. While I am not a Trump man neither do I want relegated to the caboose of the Tia train.

        I’ve already gotten the message that my kids are not as important as other kids and that is why they get less money for their schools.

        1. David Greenwald

          “I’ve already gotten the message that my kids are not as important as other kids and that is why they get less money for their schools.”

          Why is that the message that you’re getting rather than an alternative that it takes more resources to educate some students rather than others?

        2. quielo

          “Why is that the message that you’re getting rather than an alternative that it takes more resources to educate some students rather than others?”

           

          Because only an idiot would believe that. DG have you been clamouring for less resources for your children? Your kids can get along with less right? Or do you have an IEP for one of your kids?

        3. Barack Palin

          Why is that the message that you’re getting rather than an alternative that it takes more resources to educate some students rather than others?

          If you’re okay with the state giving more money to other districts than our own because of this then why do you advocate for higher local school parcel taxes?

        4. quielo

          “I guess we’re done with this discussion”

          So let me see if I understand the principle here. If quielo’s kids get the shaft than that’s social and racial justice?

    2. Justice4All

      “The California Legislature capped its two-year session by passing a load of liberal bills to help poor people, including farmworkers. That’s good, but what about middle-class folks? They were snubbed again. Ignoring the declining middle class has become the norm, both in Sacramento and Washington.”

      Extension of paid family leave doesnt help the middle class?

      1. quielo

        Compared to the give-away to other people’s it’s a very small thing. The middle class is also aware they will be paying the bill for the largess to other groups.

        The concept that when everyone else gets everything they want, if that day should ever come, then Tia will pay some attention to us.

  2. Tia Will

    Frankly and BP

    So instead of considering that there are complexities involved in raising the minimum wage and that some will be helped while others may not ( after all I freely admitted that it was controversial, and I should have added complex) we are all just going to stick to our stock “race to the bottom” and if you don’t like it “find a better job” narrative…..right ?

  3. Delia .

    They don’t want to increase the minimum wage to make it a living wage. They don’t want to pay O.T.to hardworking Latino’s. Yet they want to eat broccoli and cauliflower and avoocado,’s. And they want maids to clean their hotel rooms and people to bus their tables!
    And if they drive thru a fast food joint for coffee and a quick breakfast sandwich on their way to work, or vacation, the worker at that drive thru window doesn’t really need a living wage to serve them.

    Go figure.

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