Photo of the Month: September 2016

Farm workers tend a field in California, as the state passes historic legislation for agricultural overtime pay.

Photo of the Month_ September 2016 _ Heron Foundation

After a contentious fight in the state legislature, California passed landmark legislation this month protecting its 825,000 agricultural workers right to a 40-hour workweek and overtime pay, which is set to be phased in by 2022.

Most workers in the country were given the right to a 40-hour workweek and overtime pay under the FLSA, however there is an exception of agricultural workers, who were excluded when the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was passed. Some have pointed to historical evidence[pdf] that the exemption was originally included in the bill to appease southern officials and perpetuate racial wage disparities.

The provisions for overtime pay come at a time when the average farmworker in the US makes $15,000 – $17,499 per year, with a quarter of farm workers' families living below the poverty line. It remains to be seen how this legislation will impact farm workers' incomes, but the debate so far has paralleled the debates on overtime rules for workers in other industries, covered here on the Pulse blog in July 2015.

While labor unions and farmworkers' advocacy groups are lauding the bill, representatives of the farming industry are not optimistic:

"Farmers and agricultural lobby groups expressed deep disappointment with the new laws. In a critique similar to those used by opponents of increasing the minimum wage, they had argued that the legislation could backfire on farmworkers, as it saddles farmers and growers with higher costs and could force them to limit work hours and hire more employees… Some also could leave the state."

It remains to be seen whether the movement will gain traction in the other 49 states which don't guarantee the 40 hour week for farmworkers.



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