Monday, September 12, 2016

Governor signs bill giving farmworkers equal overtime rights

CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB1066, the bill that will give equal rights to  farmworkers in terms of overtime pay. It was the right thing to do. Ironically, the signing Monday (Sept. 12) came just a few days after the 51st anniversary of the start of the 1965 Grape Strike (Sept. 9), one of the most significant actions of America's organized labor.
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For the first time in the nation, farmworkers will get paid overtime if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours in a week - just like everybody else.

"With these laws, California farmworkers will have the same overtime protections that workers in other industries have enjoyed for decades," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez as he commended Brown's action.

AB1066, introduced by Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, would gradually phase in standards by lowering the current 10-hour day to the standard 8-hour day by annual half-hour increments for four years. The 40-hour workweek would be achieved by lowering the 60-hour week in 5-hour steps. Smaller farms would get two extra years to meet the requirement.

Co-author Assembly member Rob Bonta says the bill was well designed, taking business needs into account.  The new law will affect about 400,000 agricultural workers.

An earlier version of the UFW-supported bill failed to win enough Assembly votes for passage with some Democrats, including legislators from liberal, urban districts, not casting a vote or missing from the chamber.

The coalition of Assembly members who did favor the bill, are an example of the changing nature of the state's legislature reflecting the growing diversity of California, mostly baby boomers who grew up during the civil rights and labor movements of the 1960s.
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Giev Kashkooli, legislative director for the United Farm Workers, notes that “Democrats from rural areas all voted ‘yes’ this time. All African/American Assembly members but one voted yes, and all Asian Pacific Islander members but one voted ‘yes’ too.”

Perhaps the biggest change is that among Democrats, especially rural Democrats, are several legislators who come from families of farm workers themselves. They include Joaquin Arambula (Fresno), Rudy Salas (Delano), Luis Alejo (Watsonville) and Eduardo Garcia (Coachella/Imperial Valley). AB1066 itself was written by Lorena Gonzalez (San Diego), whose grandfather was a bracero farm worker, and cosponsored by Rob Bonta (Oakland), a Filipino/American who grew up at the UFW headquarters in La Paz, where his parents were union staff.

“We have to face the fact that racism was a factor when this different standard was established,” says Bonta. “A status quo inertia based on discrimination and exclusion isn’t an okay reason for carrying it forward today.”

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established minimum wage and overtime standards, but excluded all agricultural workers, the majority of whom at the time were African/American.

In California, the Legislature exempted farmworkers from earning overtime pay in 1941. That prohibition remained unchanged until 1976, when the state Industrial Welfare Commission ordered overtime pay for farmworkers after 10 hours on the job on any single day and 60 hours in a week. Hourly workers in other jobs across the state receive overtime after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week.