California Legislature Votes to Award Overtime Pay to Farm Workers

“These are the men and women who every day ensure that we have fruit, vegetables and wine on our tables”

3_2_4_c                                                                                        Dorothea Lange

It seems so long ago when we read The Grapes of Wrath and bristled at the inhumanity of California fruit growers. It was in 1962 that Cesar Chavez established the United Farm Workers  and began his ultimately successful struggle with the growers.

440px-Nortenos                                         United Farm Workers flag

And yet it is only today, 77 years after the publication of Steinbeck’s shocker, that California fruit and vegetable growers may finally actually have to pay their workers in a manner comparable to other workers in the state (and that, after stiff resistance). The bill is currently on the governor’s desk to sign.

Our blog drew on an article in today’s Los Angeles Times written by Jasmine  Ulloa and Sophia Bollag. 

In a historic win for farmworkers, California lawmakers on Monday passed legislation that would expand overtime pay for more than 825,000 laborers who bring produce to stores and tables across the state. . .

Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, which sponsored the measure, lauded the workers who came to the Capitol, losing a day of work, to, as he put it, “be able to witness history.”

“These are the men and women who every day ensure that we have fruit, vegetables and wine on our tables,” he said.

During what was an emotional debate, supporters of the bill framed the legislation as a matter of human rights and dignity of work, saying farm laborers deserved the same protections as the vast majority of workers.

Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside) called the vote an opportunity to correct a wrong against a subset of workers that would do more to honor Cesar Chavez than any ceremony, walk or statue.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) said it was about a simple equation: “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

“This is not an attack on those who employ farmworkers,” Thurmond said. “But this is in fact what farmworkers have asked us to do. They have asked us to give them dignity, and we have the opportunity to make history today—history that has been 80 years in the making. . .”

The issue of farmworker overtime festered in recent weeks into one of the most contentious at the end of a two-year session that has been marked by major internal Democratic strife, with rifts growing between those members aligned with business interests and those allied with labor. . .

United Farm Workers argued it corrected an injustice farmworkers have lived with since they were first exempted from federal minimum wage and overtime standards nearly eight decades ago.

But prominent business groups, led by the California Farm Bureau Federation and a coalition of agricultural producers, countered its provisions further burdened farmworkers already dealing with increased regulations and an ongoing water crisis. . .

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), who rose to the floor in support of the bill and last week promised to do everything in his power to get it passed, said he spent the weekend having conversations and going over wage data with lawmakers who held concerns.

Of the final vote, he said he felt “a tremendous sense of history, a tremendous sense of us doing something right.”



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