Senate sends overtime bill back to Assembly


Issue Date: August 24, 2016
By Christine Souza

A bare-majority vote in the state Senate sends back to the Assembly a bill to change overtime-pay rules for agricultural employees. The Assembly has until Aug. 31 to take final action on the bill.

Assembly Bill 1066 would expand overtime requirements for agricultural employees, and organizations that oppose the bill say it would likely reduce work hours and compensation for those employees. The Senate voted 21-14 Monday to pass the legislation, returning it to the Assembly—which had rejected the bill in early June.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the organization is "disappointed by the Senate vote, and especially by the inaccuracies, exaggerations and myths the backers of the bill used to justify passage of a measure that will hurt the people it's intended to help."

With the bill going back to the Assembly, Wenger said, "it's crucial for farmers, ranchers and agricultural employees who oppose this bill to contact their Assembly members and urge a 'no' vote. AB 1066 represents a victory of symbolism over substance. It would lead to reduced hours and lower earnings for individual farm employees, and add new complications to the already problematic regulatory scheme affecting family farmers and ranchers."

The bill, by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would require premium pay for farm employees after eight hours of work in a day or 40 hours in a week. Current California regulations require premium pay for agricultural employees after 10 hours in a day; California is one of only five states in the nation to offer overtime pay for farm employees.

Farmers and organizations that oppose the bill say it would actually reduce work hours and compensation for farm employees, by forcing farmers to restructure their operations in order to minimize overtime and the increased costs that it would bring. Opponents say farm employers also face stresses from scheduled increases in the minimum wage, higher costs to comply with other regulations, and competitive pressures from farmers in other states and nations who don't face the same requirements.

During debate on the legislation on the Senate floor, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, asked fellow lawmakers to vote in favor of the legislation while others, such as Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, emphasized that the legislation would only hurt farmworkers.

What is known, Stone said, is "migrant workers are paid usually well above the minimum wage" and "many embrace the 60 hours that they can get, and don't want to jeopardize this money that they depend on to support their families here and abroad."

During the Senate debate, Stone reminded fellow lawmakers that farming is a "seasonal and often weather-influenced trade," and growers "can't predict in advance when crops need to be picked; hence, farmers need to be flexible in their scheduling."

Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, said that as a lifelong farmer, he understands the good intentions behind the legislation, but added, "At the end of the day, who loses? The farmworker loses."

"Work on a farm cannot be put into a typical 9-to-5 day. It's a unique industry. The author says this bill is righting a wrong. I say this bill is creating a wrong; it will take valuable hours and pay away from the very workers that it is trying to help," Berryhill said.

After the Assembly defeated her near-identical overtime legislation in June, Gonzalez amended its language into another one of her bills, AB 1066, which was before the Senate, thus setting the stage for Monday's vote. As currently written, AB 1066 would:

  • Phase in the new overtime requirements by 2022;
  • Delay until 2025 the implementation of new overtime rules for employers with 25 employees or fewer;
  • Require agricultural employees to take one day off every seven days;
  • Give the governor the authority to postpone a scheduled overtime pay increase if employment in California is declining.

For current information on the status of AB 1066 and other important legislation, farmers and ranchers may enroll in FARM TEAM at www.cfbf.com/farmteam. FARM TEAM members receive alerts about the status of key bills and information on how and when to contact legislators.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.