Photo by Lori Fernald Khamala via Flickr Creative Commons

Despite growers’ cries California farmworkers win overtime pay

By Eduardo Stanley

California made history again September 12, 2016, when governor Jerry Brown signed a bill

entitling farmworkers to receive overtime pay, like the state’s other workers, after eight hours of

work in a day or 40 in a week. Bill AB 1066 was introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena

Sanchez (D-San Diego) and will be phased in starting in 2019. It will take full effect in 2022 for

most businesses and in 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer farmworkers.

This is plenty of time for growers and agricultural corporations to mechanize their operations and

to learn new tricks to reduce working hours to avoid paying such overtime. Yet, the cry of

growers is loud and they are voicing their intentions to avoid employing farmworkers for more

than 40 hours per week. Their patronizing and paternalistic message regarding what they

consider negative effects of the new law exposes their anger and arrogance. They claim

farmworkers will get smaller paychecks and they also repeat the argument that fresh products

will cost more.

They almost predict an agricultural catastrophe while trying to instill fear. We heard similar

arguments recently when California approved an increase in the minimum wage —up to $15 by

2022. The new law ends a 78-year exclusion of farmworkers for receiving overtime pay as

established by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which as a matter of fact perpetuated an

agricultural subsidy at the expense of farmworkers, keeping them at the lowest level of the social

strata.

California is the largest agricultural state in the country, yet the social inequality and poverty of

farmworkers are rampant. Annually, the average income of crop workers is between $10,000 to

$12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family, according to the National

Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), a report published by the US Department of Labor. The

federal poverty line is $10,830 for an individual or $22,050 for a family of four (in 2009).

Thus, according to NAWS, 30% of all farmworkers had total family incomes below the poverty

line. Nothing new. The poverty level in California is still high. A new Supplemental Poverty

Measure (http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p60-

258.pdf) by the US Census Bureau, covering the 2013-2015 period, found that nearly 8 million

Californians, 20.6 percent of the state’s residents, are living in poverty.

Still, conservative public officers representing agricultural areas such as the San Joaquin Valley,

constantly insist on covering up this reality and justifying the huge social and economic gap. For

instance, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), constantly opposes any bill or effort to

increase salaries and/or benefits for workers of all kinds with the excuse that businesses will

suffer —particularly small ones— putting them out of business or being forced to reduce their

workforce. Thus, according to this conservative-repeated argument, nothing should be done or

changed and workers should stay put without complaining or unionizing.

As a complementary component, conservatives work hard to keep an awkward cultural

environment for less fortunate people while they and their children have access to better

education and social opportunities. Let us keep in mind that while they complain about the

minimum wage increase or the new overtime law, some growers open their wallets generously to

donate money to Donald Trump’s campaign, who during a one-hour visit to Visalia, collected

$1.5 million dollars on August 30.

Most likely, California’s new law will affect neither the agricultural industry nor the

farmworkers’ income dramatically. However, this will not stop growers and their allies like

Patterson, from crying and predicting catastrophic events each time California has a new law

seeking a modest improvement of workers’ life. By the way, while growers need farmworkers,

does agriculture need growers? For instance, if growers are replaced by co-ops or other land-

property or land management systems, perhaps society in rural areas could experiment with a

social and cultural improvement which could lead to a better lifestyle that is fairer and more just.

*****

After graduating from film school at the University of La Plata, Argentina, Eduardo Stanley

received a scholarship for postgraduate studies in semiotics at the University of Bucharest,

Romania. Then he moved to Mexico, where he taught at the University of Sinaloa. Stanley later

moved to California, developing a career as a journalist and photographer—writing mainly in

Spanish. Stanley also has covered stories in Argentina, Colombia, Spain, and Mexico. He

currently freelances for several Latino media outlets and hosts a radio show in Spanish on

KFCF-FM 88.1 in Fresno.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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