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Debate over farmworker overtime pay continues at Capitol

California farmworker overtime debate gets emotional, biblical

Both sides of a measure to provide farm workers with overtime pay gave impassioned pleas during the Assembly floor debate on Thursday, June 2, 2016. Video courtesy of the California Channel.
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Both sides of a measure to provide farm workers with overtime pay gave impassioned pleas during the Assembly floor debate on Thursday, June 2, 2016. Video courtesy of the California Channel.

A passionate debate over farmworker overtime pay will return to the California Assembly, where it faltered earlier this year, after the state Senate on Monday advanced a revived version of the proposal.

Assembly Bill 1066 passed 21-14, largely along party lines, with Democrats arguing the measure would right a historic wrong and Republicans voicing objections to changes that they said would be ruinous for farmers.

Citing dangerous field conditions and poverty wages, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León framed the vote as an act of social justice: “We also cannot divorce ourselves from their plight, because they touch our lives every single day.”

Farmworkers were excluded when Congress first extended federal overtime provisions to most industries in 1938, an omission that de León credited to lawmakers from the South, where farmers were largely dependent on African American laborers.

“We have the opportunity here in California to erase the inequality of our agricultural overtime laws that was born out of shameful racism,” de León said.

The United Farm Workers Union and its legislative allies have pursued overtime pay bills for years without success.

Under current state regulations, field laborers are guaranteed extra pay if they work more than 10 hours in a day or more than six days in a week. AB 1066 would phase in changes to bring those rules in line with general overtime policy.

By 2022, farm workers would receive 1.5 times their regular pay rate if they worked more than eight hours in a day, or 40 hours in a week, with double time kicking in after 12 hours. The law would be delayed by three years for farms with 25 or fewer employees.

Many Republican senators from agricultural regions, some farmers themselves, rose to speak against the bill, warning that it would have the opposite of its intended effect. Because of the necessity of long work days during harvesting periods, they argued, farmers would be forced to cut workers’ hours and bring in a second shift rather than pay unaffordable overtime rates.

“This bill, instead of trying to help the farmworkers, is hosing the farmworkers,” said Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte.

In June, a similar proposal fell four votes short of a majority in the Assembly. The lengthy and emotional debate saw three lawmakers cite Bible verses to support their position.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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