On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed historic legislation that effectively grants farmworkers the same overtime pay as the rest of the state’s hourly workforce. The law sets a monumental new pay precedent for both the state — the largest agricultural producer in the United States—and the rest of the country at large: California’s farmworkers will be the first in the nation to earn equal overtime wages for their work.
Assembly Bill 1066 requires time-and-a-half pay to all farmworkers who work more than eight hours a day, or 40 hours per week. The process of raising their overtime salaries will be a gradual one, increasing steadily throughout the next six years until 2022. Brown signed the legislation (without issuing comment) following pressure from a heavy contingent of farmworker lobbying (lead by the United Farm Workers union), putting a close to the bill’s contentious journey through the California State Legislature.
“I’m crying tears of joy after so many years that farmworkers have worked so hard to win a significant victory like this that will dramatically change their lives,” Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers association, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
California’s farmworkers were first granted overtime pay in 1976 — but only for those working a 10-hour shift, or a 60-hour workweek. As we’ve written before, supporters of AB1066 argue equal overtime for California’s 829,000 farmworkers is about human rights—not just closing the wage gap. Agriculture was a $54 billion industry in California in 2014, but non-profits like Farmworker Justice argue farmworkers earned on average a median income of around $15,000 that year.
Tom Nassif, the CEO and president of Western Growers, cautioned Monday that California’s agricultural work force already faces considerable competition from other farming states with lower minimum wage requirements or non-existent overtime pay (many of which also aren’t grappling with crippling drought). California is already one of just five states to permit farmworkers to earn overtime pay. AB1066 “dismisses economic reality,” Nassif said in a statement, that the state’s agriculture industry is already struggling enough.
“California farmers will have no choice but to avoid even higher costs of production and they will utilize a number of strategies, including reducing work shifts and production of crops that require large numbers of employees,” he said. “The box stores, grocery chains, and restaurant companies that buy fresh produce can and will purchase from growers in other states and countries to keep prices down. They don’t care about the high costs of operating in California. Neither, apparently, do a majority of the California Legislature or the Governor.”
California’s new law, though certainly significant, is not an automatic guarantee that the state’s farmworkers will start taking home bigger paychecks just yet.