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California farmworker overtime bill signed by Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown, a onetime champion of farmworker causes whose relationship with farm labor appeared to fray in recent years, signed legislation Monday granting agricultural workers the same right to overtime pay as other Californians.

The bill’s enactment marked a major victory for the United Farm Workers union – and a setback for industry interests – six years after Brown’s predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed a similar bill.

Brown, a fourth-term Democrat, signed Assembly Bill 1066 without comment. He refused to discuss the legislation in a meeting with the editorial board of The Sacramento Bee on Monday afternoon, declining to talk about any subject other than his ballot measure to make certain nonviolent felons eligible for early parole.

The farmworker overtime bill’s enactment followed narrow passage in the Legislature and intense lobbying by farmworkers. Assembly Bill 1066 will raise overtime wages for agricultural workers incrementally over four years, ultimately matching other industries by requiring time-and-a-half pay for more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

Farmworkers are currently paid overtime if they work more than 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. Wage floors will rise gradually over the course of several years, with smaller farms getting more time to comply.

Farm-labor advocates heralded the bill as a step toward equal treatment for a largely low-paid and historically marginalized workforce, while business groups argued that increasing labor costs will damage the industry in an important agricultural state.

Some industry interests said the law will backfire on farmworkers if employers reduce worker hours to avoid triggering overtime requirements.

Brown had not signaled how he might act on the measure, and his intentions were an open question at the Capitol. Brown signed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, and he has frequently recalled marching with Cesar Chavez, the late labor leader who put Brown’s name into nomination for president at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.

But Brown has at times disappointed the UFW since returning to office, including vetoing legislation that would have made it easier to unionize farmworkers and rejecting another bill that would have made it harder for farmers to stall new farmworker contracts.

When Brown spoke at a UFW convention in Bakersfield this year, it was his first appearance at a UFW convention since returning to office in 2011.

“The hundreds of thousands of men and women who work in California’s fields, dairies and ranches feed the world and anchor our economy,” she said in a prepared statement. “They will finally be treated equally under the law. It is a good day.”

But business groups and lawmakers who battled the law renewed their warnings that the mandate would bring economic hardship to farm owners and laborers alike.

“I wish that the voices of farmers and farmworkers would have truly been heard in this discussion,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Plumas Lake, said in a statement. “Instead, the ruling party placated to one union group and the chronic and ignorant misconceptions of a few legislators who have no understanding of the industry and its people. If you understand agriculture, you know that this new law will result in lost wages for farmworkers.”

Under the law signed Monday, at the start of 2019 – or 2022 for farms with 25 or fewer employees – working more than 9 1/2 hours a day or 55 hours a week will entitle an employee to time-and-a-half pay. That will drop to more than nine hours a day or 50 hours a week in 2020 (or 2023 for smaller farms) and more than 8 1/2 hours a day or 45 hours a week in 2021 (smaller farms would get until 2024) before reaching the eight-hour-day/40-hour-week threshold in 2022 (or 2025 for smaller operations).

Also beginning in 2022, or in 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer employees, working more than 12 hours a day would earn farmworkers double pay.

Brown also signed Senate Bill 1015 to continue guaranteed overtime pay for domestic workers.

Nannies, home health care aides and other such workers won the right to extra compensation after nine hours in a day or 45 hours in a week in 2013, when Brown signed a measure supporters dubbed the “The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.” But the measure contained a January 2017 sunset, meaning that overtime mandate was set to expire soon.

Now it will endure unless future lawmakers act to repeal or alter it. Brown signed Senate Bill 1015, to remove the sunset, without comment.

“People who work on farms and in our homes are some of America’s most vulnerable workers,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in a statement. “We all depend on their work to feed and care for our families, but far too often they can’t afford to put food on their own dinner tables. Today, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two new laws to ensure critical overtime protections for these workers.”

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