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Salinas Valley agriculture: colorful lettuce crops. (Photo: Shutterstock, David A Litman)

New Overtime Law for Agriculture Workers Was Never About the Workers

Ag workers now report that weekly take-home pay has significantly dropped

By Katy Grimes, January 9, 2023 8:10 am

After many failed attempts to unionize more agricultural workers in California, Gov. Jerry Brown instead signed into law Assembly Bill 1066 in 2016 by then-Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), to require overtime pay of time-and-a-half for farm employees working more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, and double pay for those working more than 12 hours a day.

Gonzalez left the California Legislature in July to become the Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation.

Farmworkers were earning overtime pay after 60 hours in a work week and after 10 hours in a work day. Under AB 1066, in 2019 the threshold was lowered annually until 2022. Now ag workers earn time-and-a-half pay after 40 hours in a week, and eight hours in a day, just as office workers and retail workers do.

There are more than 80,000 farms in California, and the UFW has less than 30 of those under a collective bargaining agreement contract.

Interestingly, agricultural workers did not want the state mandated overtime. Here’s why:

Ag workers now report that weekly take-home pay has significantly dropped. One ag employee said his pay dropped from $1,000 to around $600 ever since his hours were slashed from 60 hours a week to 40 hours per week, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Democrats and labor unions have pushed for years to force farm employers to give farm workers overtime pay, workers compensation insurance, and mandatory breaks, making it sound as if the employees wanted this.

But Democrats in the Assembly never once acknowledged that not all employers can provide a standardized eight-hour workday because of seasonal production or the need for some work to be done in concentrated periods.

Instead, Democrats claim that the industry can just absorb the costs.

But if industry can’t absorb the costs, it is workers who pay the price. And that was always the point. Democrats wanted to make the workers so unhappy that they’d beg for the UFW to swoop in and save them with a collective bargaining agreement which is exempted from overtime, under Department of Industrial Regulations rules. This was really devious.

There are nearly one million farm and agricultural workers in California, yet the United Farm Workers labor union represents a small fraction of them. Still, Gov. Jerry Brown and the corrupt Agriculture Labor Relations Board continued to help the UFW limp along, assisting the union to terrorize well-run, law-abiding farming businesses with countless lawsuits, and harassing them with unreasonable and illegal demands.

Notably, the UFW labor union was affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, headed by Saul Alinsky.

The back story is about Gerawan Farming, and its 5,000+ employees, targeted since 2012 for unionization by the United farm Workers Labor Union. But the Gerawan workers fought back against unionization, even holding an ALRB election to try to decertify the labor union – largely because most farm workers have no interest in “organizing,” or losing 3 percent of their pay as mandatory dues. While most of Gerawan’s employees are well-compensated full-time workers, many farm workers are seasonal and work in various locations around the state. I spent years covering the Gerawan company and workers, and have been told by many workers they don’t see any advantage to the union “stealing” their hard-earned income for dues.

When the UFW couldn’t convince Gerawan’s employees to join them, the union leaders turned to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to force them into the union.

As the United Farm Workers labor union and the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board found themselves on the brink of extinction and future irrelevance, they joined forces to reverse their misfortune by targeting one of the biggest non-union farming operations in the state. Should they ever succeed in unionizing the 5,000 Gerawan Farming employees, it would greatly increase UFW union membership, and certainly boost the ALRB’s status.

The wrangling with the United Farm Workers Labor Union began again in October of 2012, when the union insisted that a collective bargaining agreement covering Gerawan workers be reactivated — even though there had been no union involvement with the workers for more than 23 years. Some of the workers then began a process for a vote to decertify the union, and forced the decertification election. The ALRB promptly declared “misconduct,” and locked up the ballots.

Gerawan filed a constitutional challenge against the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with the United Farm Workers of America named as a “Real Party of Interest.” In the California Court of Appeal, Fifth District in Fresno, Gerawan challenged the ALRB’s invocation of the California’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Statute. Democrat Gov. Gray Davis signed the MMC statute into law in 2002.

The court unanimously struck down California’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation secrecy law as unconstitutional, handing a win to Gerawan Farming and its employees.

But the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board and UFW labor union continued to harass and target Gerawan Farming and its employees. The ALRB continues to be a powerful ally of the UFW, and still does the union’s bidding at the expense of farm workers across the state.

California OT Laws

California’s overtime laws are complex and largely appear to be driven by the political party in power.

Overtime was enacted many years ago, to compensate employees who were being “overworked” by employers, defined by the government as working employees beyond eight hours in one workday. Overtime law requires employers to pay employees overtime equaling and one-half of employees’ hourly pay for working more than eight hours in one day, as well as more than 40 hours in one week. Double-time is paid after 12 hours in one day, and again on the seventh consecutive workday in one week.

OT doesn’t work in some industries. Look at the list of exemptions at the Department of Industrial Relations; most of the jobs are largely production related and require periods of work in order to meet production. They can’t be molded into a standard 8-hour, state office worker workday. These people work when the work is there, and they work long hours when they need to. When they work is not available, they do not get paid.

Notably, “employees directly employed by the State or any political subdivision thereof, including any city, county or special district,” the DIR reports.

Up until AB 1066 was signed into law, agriculture workers were exempted from standard overtime laws.

Long-time seasonal and/or production employees always understood that they make a great deal of money during some seasons, and can work long hours. Most say they want the flexibility to earn the extra money, knowing there can be periods of no work.

The warnings were there when AB 1066 was heard in legislative committees.

In a 2016 survey conducted by the Western Growers Association found over 80% responded that they would reduce wages as a result of both the overtime law and the $15 minimum wage law.

Key findings included:

  • More than 80% of farms will cut back working hours for farmworkers
  • On average, farmworkers will lose 15 hours of work and $180 in income per week
  • Many farmworker jobs will be eliminated as farms will look for ways to reduce the need for labor
  • Fewer than 10% of farms will be able to pass the added costs of minimum wage and agricultural overtime along to buyers
  • Nearly one-third of farms plan to reduce benefits offered to their employees
  • 60% of farms with plans to expand operations in California will now shift their expansion plans to other states and countries

Democrats passed the law anyway – targeting the very workers they claimed they were trying to help.

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11 thoughts on “New Overtime Law for Agriculture Workers Was Never About the Workers

  1. Funny, how it always hurts the population they claim to want to lift up???? Follow the money and you will find it never is about the people it is about power and control.
    Think of the unions as a Ponzi scheme. I am surprised Lorena Gonzales did not target the seasonal workers with AB5!
    The only time you should welcome the government to help is during a natural disaster and even that is tricky. The government is not your friend or your caretaker. The many farm workers have run from countries that control every aspect of their lives. They get it!
    I wonder if the AG labor board has a life coach serving on it?????

  2. This is a very important story, not least because it is an example of so much of what happens in CA, where unions and politicians seek to fatten themselves at the expense of workers, who so often simply DO NOT WANT their “help” — thus it has to be forced on them while the union fat cats and politicians shout from the rooftops how committed and generous and helpful they are to the “unfairly treated and abused” workers.

    And to think we wouldn’t even have known about this — and therefore other such sins of the phony self-righteous union leaders and their BFF politicians, which produce harm and NOT help as advertised — if Katy Grimes had not dug down into the story over many years to tell us what was really going on with this particular example of union and legislative blackmailing of workers, which only put the workers in a much worse position. Because main media in CA sure as heck doesn’t cover this stuff. Just imagine how much better off we would all be if they DID bother to cover such stories.

  3. Thank you for publishing this important article that highlights the REAL reason that these “caring, feeling” Democrats feel compelled to intervene, and only reinforces my belief that NO ONE should be eligible to run for office unless they have managed a business firsthand, or had significant military leadership experience…
    These “community organizers” have ZERO business experience or awareness and promulgate legislation that is DETRIMENTAL to their constituents, but panders to their FUNDERS….

    1. The overtime legislation (Assembly Bill 1066) was authored by former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. After graduating from UCLA School of Law, she immediately got into Democrat politics. She’s a pampered “community activist” who has never run a business. In 2020, Gonzales criticized Elon Musk for opening Tesla during the COVID-19 scamdemic California and for threatening to move Tesla out of California because of the state’s reopening restrictions. She sent out a nasty tweet that said ‘F–k Elon Musk’. On January 3, 2022, Gonzales announced that she would be resigning from the state Assembly to take a job at the California Labor Federation (CLF) that advocates for radical leftist policies and Democrat candidates. The Influence Watch website indicates that CLF is funded by grants, contributions, dues from its affiliated unions. CLF has accepted grants from a number of left-of-center foundations, including the Energy Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation.

      1. Wait a minute —– former Assemblywoman and now fat cat union hack Lorena ‘AB5 The Job Killer’ Gonzalez is a LAWYER? Or just a law school graduate? Never mind, I love these bios; please keep them coming. 🙂

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