By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
Earlier this week, democratic leaders introduced a bill that would strengthen labor protections for farm workers by amending a previous law that excluded this group from overtime pay.
The Fairness for Farm Workers Act would grant overtime protections to individuals who work more than 40 hours a week and eliminate “most” exemptions to minimum wage.
The new requirements would be phased in over four years beginning in 2019 – allowing smaller farms to comply – according to the legislation language.
Led by Sen. Kamala Harris, the bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which originally excluded farm workers from overtime pay protections.
Harris said the bill addresses a “long standing inequity” in terms of who we are protecting as workers in America.
“One it’s about fairness and equality for all workers. Two it’s about the fact that farmworkers do some of the most difficult work. They work long hours, they face exposure to the sun and they risk injury,” Harris said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 100 farm workers suffer injury each day and face the possibility of missing work due to injuries. They are not guaranteed pay for days lost.
Harris introduced the bill Monday, June 25, with democratic leaders like Dianne Feinstein, Cory Booker, Jeff Merkley, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Elizabeth Warren, and Chris Van Hollen.
“America’s farm workers deserve to be paid for the work they do – often under physically demanding, dangerous conditions that contribute to exploitation,” Sen. Hirono said in a statement. “By ending the discriminatory denial of overtime pay, this bill would help ensure farm workers can earn a living wage.”
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established overtime pay for most American workers, excluded agricultural workers who were mainly African American.
By 1966, many farm workers were given minimum wage protections, however, overtime protections were not included.
California adopted a 2016 overtime pay law, however, farm workers nationwide did not have those protections.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, worte in a statement following the introduction of the bill that 80 years of discriminatory exclusion from overtime pay is long enough.
“It’s easy to understand why farm workers were written out of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, but it is hard to believe overtime wage exclusions still persist 80 years later,” Rodriguez said in the statement. “It was wrong then and it is wrong now.”
Harris said that in 1938, southern democrats left out farm workers because they did not want their black field workers to receive those protections.
She said the bill highlights the discrimination that African Americans, Mexican, and immigrant workers face and the need to band together to fight that discrimination.
“I’m proud to be a daughter of California and do this not only in honor of Cesar Chavez but do it in the way I think he would want it done, which is it’s not only the farm workers we know it’s about farm workers around the country that’s what the movement that he created was all about,” Harris said.
The legislation would also remove overtime exemptions for individuals employed in irrigation projects, livestock auctions accompanying farm work, small country grain elevators, certain sugar processing, certain types of intra-state transportation and preparation for transportation of fruits, vegetables, cotton ginning and cotton compression, according to language in the legislation.