Farm worker overtime bill could soon become law

FRESNO, Calif.

If signed into law, it would require farmers to pay time-and-a-half once someone works more than 40 hours a week. But many Ag groups oppose the bill.

Farm workers toil in the hot sun harvesting plums and other produce. But unlike other workers, farm laborers don't get paid overtime until they reach 60 hours a week.

State Senator Dean Florez' bill would force farmers to pay workers overtime after 40 hours.

MAPA chapter President Rey Leon said, "I think it's about time for overtime, at least for farm workers."

Leon believes the current system is unfair for those who toil under often extreme conditions. Leon said, "That seems like a notion of legitimized exploitation or must I say, slavery."

But many farm groups like the California Grape and Tree Fruit League oppose the bill. Regulatory Affairs Director Chris Valadez said, "We believe first and foremost this hurts the worker."

Valadez says workers would actually receive smaller paychecks because instead of paying more overtime, farmers would just hire more people. He explained, "Right now with such a demand during peak harvest season roughly a third of their hours can come in as overtime."

Valadez says in many cases, those overtime hours would no longer be made available.

The notion angers Rey Leon. He said, "I think that's a cheap way out, as opposed to responsibility."

Governor Schwarzenegger hasn't indicated whether he will sign or veto this bill.

California is the only state in the U.S. which pays overtime to farm workers - after ten hours a day or 60 hours a week.

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