Four decades after he signed the nation's first law giving farmworkers collective bargaining rights, California Gov. Jerry Brown will again consider a historic proposal calling for farmworkers to receive the same overtime pay as other hourly workers, after the Assembly approved legislation Monday to phase in the change.
California employers are already mandated to pay time-and-a half to farmworkers after 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. That's longer than the overtime pay for all other workers, who get it after eight hours in a day or 40 hours a week.
The Assembly passed the proposal with a 44-32 vote after two hours of debate over whether the increase in wages would cause managers to cut hours or jobs.
"There may be situations where people may believe that they will lose something in terms of economics, but my father taught me that it was more than about the money, it was about who he was as a man and it was about him being respected by everyone else like everyone else," said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, whose father was a sharecropper. "Sometimes, for that reason, you make that economic sacrifice."
The bill was previously passed in the state Senate 21-14. Brown spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said he has not yet taken a position on it.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, proposed that the state phase in time-and-a-half pay for farm laborers who exceed eight hours in one day by 2022 on large farms and by 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer employees.
"We're asking for equality eventually. It starts today, however," Gonzalez said.
Opponents argue the seasonal nature of farm work does not lend itself to overtime. They said the added costs will require employers to cut workers' hours, ultimately hurting hundreds of thousands of farmworkers in California.
"There was a special standard set for farming so that we could bring the crop in and be the leader, in California, to not only the world but the nation and that our farmworkers would be taken care of," said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.
The Assembly rejected the proposal in June, when eight Democrats opposed it and another six refused to vote. In what Gonzalez has described as an unprecedented move to revive the bill, she worked around the Legislature's rules and reinserted the proposal in another bill, angering Republicans who objected to the breach in procedure.
Gonzalez waged a social media campaign to pressure her Democratic colleagues to back AB1066; agreed to compromises to win votes, including giving small farms an extra three years to pay more overtime; and led a squad of Democratic allies in a 24-hour fast paying homage to the weekslong fast that legendary farmworker activist Cesar Chavez staged when the "Salad Bowl" strike of 1970 initially failed.
Brown, currently serving in an unprecedented fourth term as California governor, first ran for the job on the heels of the nation's largest agricultural labor strike. Thousands of workers walked off farms in 1970, picketing for farm owners to recognize and negotiate fair labor conditions with the union that Chavez had established nearly a decade earlier.
The strike fizzled with no legislative accomplishments under former Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan. The movement came alive again with Brown's election to the governor's office in 1974.
Last week, tensions flared when roughly 300 farmworkers and union leaders who had planned to join a rally learned that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, had postponed the vote without explanation. About 100 people congregated outside Rendon's office, chanted "overtime," and sang "De Colores," a Mexican folk song that was a staple at strikes and union meetings when Chavez led the UFW.
California lawmakers passed a similar bill in 2010 that would have deleted the exemption of agricultural employees from overtime requirements. Former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.