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Farm worker overtime bill moves to Assembly
farm workers
Felipe Moreno quickly and efficiently picks peaches on the morning of July 20 in Jim Santinis Escalon orchard at the beginning of harvest time, which will run through early September. California farm workers are one step closer to gaining overtime pay benefits under a measure passed by the state Senate. - photo by DAWN HENLEY / The Journal

A bill that would eliminate farm workers’ exemption from overtime pay benefits was approved by the state Senate on Monday, over the objections of Republican lawmakers.

“This is a huge milestone for farm workers nationwide,” said United Farm Workers Spokesperson Maria Machuca.  “We think this bill will end racism and discrimination for them.”

The bill is supported by the United Farm Workers but opposed by growers and agribusiness organizations. The industry employs as many as 450,000 workers in California in the peak harvest months of August and September.

AB 1313, if enacted, would provide overtime pay for farm workers after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.  Under existing law, workers receive overtime if they work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours in a week.

“Farm workers deserve the same benefits and pay as every single worker in this country.  They work very long hours throughout the day and conditions are undesirable for others to work in.  They deserve the same rights,” added Machuca.  “It has been 74 years since farm workers and domestic workers were left out of the landmark federal law setting minimum wages and overtime for American workers.  It’s time to right this wrong.”

Republican lawmakers objected to the bill saying it could hurt agriculture workers rather than help them.

“If the bill gets passed, farmers will drop the workers’ hours to avoid paying overtime,” said Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Director Tom Orvis.  “Employees will have less hours and smaller paychecks to support their families.”

Orvis believes that if AB 1313 becomes law, farm owners would employ more workers at fewer hours or use mechanical harvesting devices rather than pay more overtime.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill two years ago.