Padilla introduces Senate bill to extend overtime pay to agriculture

US Senator Alex Padilla of California introduces a bill that would extend overtime pay to agricultural workers – a divisive issue in the industry even as the notion of a standard 40-hour workweek has been a point focal point for defenders since the dawn of the labor movement. And this debate has raged for generations. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set federal standards for minimum wage and overtime pay, but it excluded millions of domestic and farm workers, most of whom Padilla said were people of color. .

Called the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, the measure would directly amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to end overtime and minimum wage exemptions for farm workers. According an information sheet on the Padilla websitethe bill would phase in overtime pay over a four-year period.

Specifically, it would require employers, beginning in 2023, to compensate agricultural workers for hours worked beyond their normal hours (i.e. 55 hours in 2023, 50 hours in 2024, 45 hours in 2025 and 40 hours in 2026) at less than one and a half times the employee’s normal rate. For employers with 25 or fewer employees, overtime pay requirements begin in 2026.

A similar resolution was introduced in the United States House in May 2021, but was referred to committee with no action taken.

“The discriminatory exclusion of agricultural workers from overtime pay has gone on too long. It is time to right this grave national wrong by finally extending overtime pay to all American agricultural workers. Farmworkers help put food on our tables and deserve equal rights in the workplace,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres.

The UFW Foundation has a strong connection to Padilla after the Democrat became the first U.S. senator to work alongside farm workers through the United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation’s Take Our Jobs campaign. A few days later, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey became the second senator to participate in the campaign.

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California Democrat Alex Padilla has become the first US senator to work alongside farmworkers in the Take Our Jobs campaign. (Image courtesy of the UFW Foundation)

According to the UFW Foundation, California is the only state that currently offers overtime pay to all agricultural workers after 40 hours a week or eight hours a day. In Washington State, only dairy workers currently receive overtime pay after working 40 hours per week. All other agricultural workers in Washington State receive overtime pay after working 55 hours per week. Few other states, such as New York, offer overtime pay to agricultural workers, but at higher, long-term thresholds.

As noted in Padilla’s bill, overtime pay requirements would not apply to employees who are the employer’s parent, spouse, child or other immediate family member.

In a recent column on AGDAILY, the author wrote: “In practice, how will OT work? Farmers have a fixed amount of dollars to allocate to payroll. Lower the OT threshold, and they will 1) hire more workers and 2) cap their hours at 40. Less net pay per worker. How does this model worker do justice? You have to wonder if farmworker advocacy groups can see beyond their demonization of farmers to the very palpable collateral damage. »

Small and medium producers are also concerned that a change in overtime standards would favor large farms and large agricultural enterprises, as they would be better able to cope with any financial impact on operations. Small producers generally have lower margins, and it is assumed that overtime pay would lead to greater consolidation in the agricultural industry.

Padilla says that The Fairness for Agricultural Workers Act is endorsed by more than 140 organizations and has been included in the Biden administration’s immigration plan. It is sponsored by Padilla and co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Catherine Cortez Masto, Ron Wyden, Chris Van Hollen, Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown and Ed Markey. As of the date of this publication, the bill has not yet received a number in the Senate.

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Working on a farm in New Jersey, Senator Cory Booker spent a day harvesting lettuce, cleaning leafy greens and planting tomatoes. (Image courtesy of the UFW Foundation)

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Norman D. Briggs