New law ushers in overtime pay for farmworkers

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- 2019 ushered in a new state law offering additional overtime protections for farmworkers.

Unlike other industries which pay overtime after 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, farmworkers don't enjoy the same benefit.

Laborers who pick our fruits and vegetables weren't getting overtime until they put in 10 hours per day or 60 hours a week.

A new state law is gradually being phased in. Right now, it pays farmworkers overtime after 9 1/2 hours a day or 55 hours a week.

"It is not just the money. It is meaningful for farmworkers because they're tired of being seen as second-class people," says UFW Spokesman Marc Grossman.

But Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League says valley farmers are opposed to the new California law.

He says workers prefer to put in extra hours especially during harvest time to make more money, making agriculture very different from other industries.

"Those people don't have the issues that agriculture has and that is we're so seasonal in nature because of a variety of reasons that you or I have no control over. The weather conditions, the marketing conditions, the crops," says Cunha.

Supporters of the new law though say the change should have made been long ago to bring agriculture in line with other industries when it comes to overtime. But Cunha believes workers will lose out in the long run.

"Now what this has done is that farmworkers know that they're that going to get less hours because the farmers can't afford to pay this. That means less hours, less time. They're going to leave the state," Cunha says.

Grossman disagrees.

"Well that arguments rings a little hollow because what's the biggest complaint that the agriculture industry has mounted in recent years? They complain about labor shortages," he says.

Under the new law, farmworkers will get eventually paid for overtime after eight hours a day beginning in 2023.

The law applies to California farms with more than 25 employees.

Cunha believes more growers will turn to mechanization and continue to pull out labor intensive crops such as grapes and tree fruit.
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