AG Daily: U.S. bill targets ‘racial exclusions’ of OT pay for farmworkers

By Staff

Lawmakers from states with strong immigrant populations are again introducing federal legislation that would provide overtime and additional minimum wage protections for farm workers. This bill, called the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, is being put forth in both congressional chambers by U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and U.S. Rep. Rául M. Grijalva (D-AZ).

The bill, which only left-leaning politicians have sponsored, aims to ensure farm workers receive fairer wages and compensation by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Employers would be required to compensate agricultural workers for hours worked in excess of their regular hours by gradually implementing overtime pay over the course of four years (i.e., 55 hours in 2024, 50 hours in 2025, 45 hours in 2026, and 40 hours in 2027) at not less than one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate.

The standard 40-hour work week has been a focal point for advocates since the dawn of the labor movement. Many were routinely working 70+ hours in the 1800s (tradespeople often worked 100+ hours), and this galvanized a movement. However, in the ag realm, opponents not this isn’t a typical 9-to-5 profession — only 40 hours a week is a pipe dream. It has operational elements that many argue simply aren’t compatible with such a static, artificial number.

Still, versions of this bill have been introduced often in recent years, including previously by Padilla as well as by now Vice President Kamala Harris back when she was a California senator.

“It’s past time we correct our nation’s labor laws to include the farm workers who have been unjustly excluded from protections,” Padilla said. “Last year, I experienced a small dose of the demanding work under extreme weather conditions that farm workers do to feed millions of families across the country. Farm workers are indispensable to our economy—they deserve to be treated with dignity and paid fairly for their back-breaking and essential work.”

Padilla is strongly allied with the UFW Foundation on this issue. Padilla became the first Democrat and the first U.S. senator to work alongside farm workers as part of the United Farm Workers’ and UFW Foundation’s Take Our Jobs campaign.

UFW leadership calls the lack of overtime pay a “racist exclusion” of the largely minority agricultural labor force.

“For 85 years, the exclusion of farm workers from overtime pay has been a lasting legal remnant of Jim Crow,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “The Fairness for Farmworkers Act would finally end the racist exclusion of agricultural workers from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. We thank Senator Padilla and Congressman Grijalva for working to finally address this historic injustice. The men, women, and children who do the backbreaking work in the fields to put food on America’s table deserve access to the same wage and overtime standards as any other worker in America.”

Specifically, the Fairness for Farm Workers Act of 2023:

  • Requires time-and-a-half overtime pay for all agricultural workers, with additional compliance time for small farms;
  • Removes exemptions to overtime for agriculture generally and ends the exemptions for overtime and minimum wage requirements for certain small farms, hand harvest laborers, non-local minors, and range livestock production. Maintains the family farm exemption to these requirements;
  • Removes exemptions to overtime for workers employed in irrigation projects, livestock auctions incidental to farm work, small country grain elevators, certain sugar processing, certain types of intra-state transportation and preparation for transportation of fruits and vegetables, cotton ginning, and cotton compressing.

The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Read the full article here.