California Lawmakers Pass Farmworker Overtime Bill

SACRAMENTO -- The state legislature took a big step toward worker equality Monday, voting in favor of a bill that would grant overtime pay to farmworkers.

Welcomed with cheers from more than 200 farmworkers filling the Assembly gallery, state lawmakers voted to grant those workers, and hundreds of thousands of others across California like them, the right to earn additional overtime pay.

The fight was led by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales.

"We're asking for equality, eventually. It starts today however,” said Gonzales from the Assembly floor.

"This is not a bill for farmworkers. This is bill for the [United Farmworkers Association]," said Republican Assembly Leader Kristen Olsen in response.

After a similar bill failed in June, four votes short of passage, there was quite a bit of political back and forth in both chambers.

Thursday an expected vote on the bill, AB 1066, was delayed in part because of lack of support.

Ultimately it’s those like Cristino Cruz, a tomato farmworker in San Joaquin County, who came out on top Monday.

"We worked long hours in harsh conditions. It's extremely hot, we work in the extremely cold, and we didn't get paid overtime. We just wanted to be treated equally,” said Cruz through a translator.

Gonzales says most California farmworkers work more than 40 hours a week and only earn about $16,000 a year, though much of their work is seasonal.

Right now they only receive overtime if they work more than 10 hours a day, not eight like most workers.

If the governor signs off on it, farmworkers would get time-and-a-half pay for working more than eight hours a day, and double pay for more than 12 hours a day.

The bill phases in overtime requirements beginning in 2019. Ultimately by 2022, farmworkers would get overtime pay after 40 hours of work per week.

Opponents say not only will the bill hurt the industry, hiking up labor costs for farmers, it will also hurt farmworkers themselves whose hours will ultimately be cut.

"Go out and talk to farmers who aren't represented by UFW, who weren't forced to come down here today. You're going to hear a whole lot different story,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, who voted against the bill.

He says some farmworkers work close to 60 hours a week. They may see their hours slashed to 40 so employers can avoid overtime payments if Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill into law.

"The farmworkers I talk to say man, I need those 10, 12 hours because that's the money I need to put in my pocket to help put food on the table,” said Gallagher.

The bill now heads to Brown to put his signature on what many in the Assembly Chambers Monday saw as history.