The California Senate on Monday passed a bill that would expand overtime pay for farmworkers.
Introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), AB 1066, passed the Senate floor with a 21-14 vote. The bill now goes back to the California Assembly for a final vote. There it “faces its most passionate opposition,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
AB 1066 would roll out new rules for overtime in 2019, lowering the current 10-hour-day threshold for overtime by half an hour each year until it reaches the standard eight-hour day by 2022. It also would phase in a 40-hour standard workweek for the first time.
The United Farm Workers sponsored the bill. The group says the bill “addresses an injustice inflicted on farmworkers nearly eight decades ago, when they were first exempted from federal minimum wage and overtime standards,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
A number of major agricultural producers, led by the California Farm Bureau Federation and including the California Cut Flower Commission, oppose the legislation. A video created by that coalition accuses lawmakers of singling out agriculture and saddling farmers with higher costs that, coupled with increases to the minimum wage, could be “devastating” to companies and communities.
The coalition says AB 1066 lacks “common sense” and does not take into consideration the seasonal nature of some industries. The group adds the bill has the potential to hurt farms of all size and across agriculture industries, including flower growers. It warns that, if passed, many farmers in the state will be forced to plant less, move out of state or close entirely.
Ben Dobbe, COO and senior sales executive of Holland America Flowers in Nipomo, California, said the bill could ultimately hurt employees “big time.”
Dobbe explained that if the bill passes, employees “will not be allowed to work more than 55 hours per week in 2017, not more than 50 hours in 2018, not more than 45 hours in 2019 and not more than 40 hours in 2020,” he explained. “We cannot afford to pay any overtime, so we cannot allow any of our employees to work any overtime hours.”
Coupled with the effects of the minimum wage increase, he added, “the bottom line for our employees, and likely for employees on most other farms, is that they will lose working hours gradually over the next four years to a 40-hour work week in 2020.”
Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), who opposes the bill, told the Los Angeles Times California “already has the strongest laws and regulations to protect farmworkers, who are ‘aspiring’ and ‘upwardly mobile.’”
“There is no question that, just as with the minimum wage that passed a few months ago, jobs will be gone or hours will be decreased,” Nielsen said. “You are not doing a favor, you are doing harm.”