Governor Schwarzenegger Vetoes Farm Workers Overtime Bill

Happy National Farmers Market Week?  Is that what Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was thinking when he vetoed the Overtime Pay for Farmworkers bill on July 28, 2010, four days before the US Secretary of Agriculture kicked off National Farmers Market week?

Senate Bill 1121, authored by Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter (Kern County), would have given California’s agricultural employees the right to receive overtime pay after 40 hours a week or eight hours a day.  The bill also would have given farmworkers the right to take one day off every seven days.

Currently California farmworkers are exempt from labor laws protecting other California workers since 1941.  They are only eligible for overtime pay after 60 hours a week or 10 hours a day.  According to Farmworker Justice, the average wage for California agricultural employees is $10.25.

California farm workersOpponents of the bill (including a slew of farmowner coalitions like the Alliance of Western Milk Producers, Allied Grape Growers, California Association of Wheat Grower, California Bean Shippers Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, California Citrus Mutual, California Grain & Feed Association, California Grape & Tree Fruit League, California Pear Growers Association, Pacific Coast Renderers Association, Western Growers, Western United Dairymen, Wine Institute) claimed the measure would have resulted in lower wages and less hours for farmworkers.

Apparently those in opposition did not take into account what the California farmworkers wanted.  On July 20th United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez joined farm workers from across California to march the bill, already passed by the California state legislature, to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk.  Here is the statement issued by UFW’s President in response to the Governor’s veto.

The governor’s message to the state senate was as follows:

To the Members of the California State Senate: I am returning Senate Bill 1121 without my signature. In 1999, California enacted sweeping legislation concerning overtime wages and adopted the requirements that overtime be generally paid after eight hours of work. However, in enacting the “Eight-Hour-Day Restoration and Workplace Flexibility Act of 1999″ the Legislature specifically exempted agricultural workers from such overtime requirements, recognizing that agricultural work is different from other industries: it is seasonal, subject to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, and requires the harvesting of perishable goods. Indeed, while California is the most progressive state in the nation by allowing overtime pay for agricultural employees after 10 hours of work, federal law exempts workers employed in agriculture from overtime pay altogether. Senate Bill 1121 would cast aside these longstanding rules and would require overtime pay for agricultural workers after eight hours per day and 40 hours per week.

My administration has made great strides to improve the lives of agricultural workers. I have signed legislation to increase the minimum wage, fought hard to improve our state’s infrastructure to ensure adequate water supplies for our agricultural regions, and enacted the first-in-the-nation outdoor heat stress regulations to help keep agricultural workers safe. Unfortunately, this measure, while well intended, will not improve the lives of California’s agricultural workers and instead will result in additional burdens on California businesses, increased unemployment, and lower wages.

Yes, this bill would have placed additional burden on California farm owners.  But what worthwhile reform isn’t initially burdensome?

In the 1960s, I’m certain that businesses employing mostly women cried about “the burden” it would put on their companies if they were forced to pay women equally when the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed.  And I suspect that the legislation the governor is referring to that increased the minimum wage and enacted heat stress regulations was also met by the same moaning and groaning.  Had SB 1121 passed, I believe the California farming industry would have made it work as well.

In order to remain competitive against other states that do not have such wage requirements, businesses will simply avoid paying overtime. Instead of working 10-hour days, multiple crews will be hired to work shorter shifts, resulting in lower take home pay for all workers. Businesses trying to compete under the new wage rules may become unprofitable and go out of business, resulting in further damage to our already fragile economy.

California farm workersCalifornia farmworkers deserve better.  They work long grueling hours under extreme conditions to make California the farming leader in the United States.  In a state that produces 99% of the artichokes consumed in the country, 95% of the celery, 93% of the broccoli, 90% of the avocados, 86% of the strawberries and the bulk of the carrots, leafy greens, peaches and lemons consumed in the entire United States, can we really not afford to treat our farmworkers more equitably?  Are we really going to lose our 99% share of the artichoke business to the states that produce the other 1%?

Finally, it should be noted that Senate Bill 1121 would not just change the rules governing overtime pay for agricultural workers, but would also apply California’s confusing and burdensome rest and meal requirements. Unfortunately, while there have been several attempts to clean up this section of law, efforts at comprehensive reform continue to fail. There is no reason to exacerbate this continuing problem by adding agricultural workers to it. For these reasons, I am unable to sign this bill.


Arnold Schwarzenegger

Eating lunch and taking breaks is confusing and burdensome?  Let’s see…  California Labor Law requires the following (farmworkers are exempt):

No employer shall employ any person for a work period of more than five (5) hours without a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that when a work period of not more than six (6) hours will complete the day’s work the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee. Unless the employee is relieved of all duty during a 30 minute meal period, the meal period shall be considered an “on duty” meal period and counted as time worked. An “on duty” meal period shall be permitted only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the parties an on-the-job paid meal period is agreed to. The written agreement shall state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time. California Code of Regulations, Title 8, §11040.

I don’t know about you but I’m not confused.   And I really don’t think the California agricultural industry would be confused either.  Where is César Chávez when we need him?  Probably rolling in his grave.

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