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State Senate To Vote On Overtime Pay For Farm Workers

Lesley McClurg / Capital Public Radio

Strawberry pickers in Watsonville, Calif. Many farmworkers in the state are out of work because of the severe drought. Those who do have a job are often working harder for less money.

Lesley McClurg / Capital Public Radio

California has more than 800,000 farm workers. A proposal requiring employers to pay farm workers overtime after they work eight hours in a day or 40 hours a week may get a vote later this week in the state Senate.

Philip Martin is a UC Davis agricultural economist. He says when it comes to mapping the hours of agricultural workers, California is in the dark.

"First of all, we don't know how much certain types of worker work right now. And that makes it hard to predict what would happen if we switched from 10/60 to 8/40 overtime rules," says Martin.

He also says three types of workers most likely to be affected by a change in overtime rules would be dairy and livestock workers, irrigators and equipment operators.

In the case of dairy farms, Martin says the potential impact will vary.

"Some dairy farms offer housing to workers. So it's not just salary it's also the housing," he says. "They may be less likely to hire additional workers to avoid the overtime and simply pay it. Others where the workers don't live on the farm may add to staff."

Right now, employers are required to pay overtime to farm workers after 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week.

The bill must win approval by the state Legislature by the end of the month.

An earlier bill that attempted to phase in new overtime rules for farm workers failed on the Assembly floor in June.