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Farmworker OT Bill Passes Legislature After Heated Debate

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez (left) embraces Asm. Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) after the Assembly approved her AB 1066 on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

The California Assembly has narrowly passed an unprecedented measure that would allow farm workers to earn overtime pay after working eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

The Assembly vote Monday was 44-32, with four members not voting. The approval came just days after a scheduled vote was canceled.

(Here's more on some of the Legislature's other votes Monday, as well as Gov. Jerry Brown's bill actions)

Supporters spoke of the need to provide dignity to farm workers and to give them the same right to overtime pay that other workers have.  

“It seems to me a simple equation: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work," says Democrat Asm. Tony Thurmond.

Opponents, like Republican Asm. Devon Mathis, argued the bill would put many farmers out of business – and those who stuck around would cut workers’ hours or turn to machines.

“Sometimes, good intentions can have terrible consequences. This bill ultimately will hurt those that it claims to want to help,” says Mathis.

(See also: Why the farm worker overtime bill might not add up to bigger paychecks)

Democratic Asm. Das Williams acknowledged those concerns even as he voted for the bill, pointing out that many consumers buy the cheapest produce available.

“If we aren't willing to pay the 25 cents more for California-grown berries, then how do we expect California farms to pay California workers better wages?“ Williams asked.

Last Thursday, the votes to pass the measure weren’t there, prompting a scheduled Assembly vote to be canceled. But by Monday, that had changed.

“We always knew that we were gonna get this out before the end of the year, and we just wanted to double-check and make sure all the members were where they said they were,“ Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told reporters after the vote.

Some Assembly members “weren't quite comfortable yet with voting on Thursday,“ Rendon added, saying they “wanted additional time. I thought it was prudent to give them that time.“

Currently, California farm workers are not eligible for overtime pay until they work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, the overtime requirements would be phased in over four years starting in 2019. Small farms would get an additional three years to comply.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio