On Friday, there was a heated debate in Sacramento regarding a bill that would remove the exemptions for agriculture workers and bring them into the 8 hour day and 40 hour workweek.
First, a little history:
The Federal Government exempted agriculture workers back in the 1940’s from the FLSA and left the regulation of overtime to the States if they wanted to improve on this standard. NO OTHER STATE DID…..EXCEPT CALIFORNIA. In 1976 Jerry Brown (the first time as Governor), signed bills that established the 10 hour day and 60 hour work-week. This was included in the Wage Orders that were established about 2001, specifically, Wage Order 14 with some agriculture work being moved to the 8/40 schedule with wage orders 8 and 13.
In 2010 and again in 2011, they tried to change the rules to 8/40 but it was defeated again with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stating:
“Unfortunately, this measure, while well-intended, will not
improve the lives of California’s agricultural workers and
instead will result in additional burdens on California
businesses, increased unemployment, and lower wages. In order
to remain competitive against other states that do not have such
wage requirements, businesses will simply avoid paying overtime.
Instead of working 10-hour days, multiple crews will be hired
to work shorter shifts, resulting in lower take home pay for all
workers. Businesses trying to compete under the new wage rules
may become unprofitable and go out of business, resulting in
further damage to our already fragile economy.”
So again on Friday, we had the arguments for and against. 3 pro-8/40 Assembly members felt it was important to quote Bible Scripture. While interesting, this is not really the argument. There were supporters from the usual groups, UFW, Labor leaders on one side and Agriculture employers on the other. What was missing was those who really represent the interests of the employee.
Right now, a dairy worker generally works 60 hours a week, 10 hours a day. If you pass this law, that employee will be working 40 hours a week, or 8 hours per day (5 days a week). Since employers will not want to pay overtime, they will do one of 3 things. They will change from two 10-hour shifts a day, to 3 8-hour shifts per day. Or, they will reduce the size of their herds so they can be handled in 8 hours and this will further reduce the number of employees needed. Finally, they can just close up and go to one of the other 49 states that want to work with agricultural employers.
When you reduce the worker’s income by 20 hours per week, you are not doing them a favor. In fact, you may be creating a much worse situation. In order to make up for the lost income (can you afford to lose $200 + per week in your pay?) the employee will have to look for a second income. This means working at another dairy 2 days a week or working a second shift at another dairy. This increases the likelihood of injuries due to being over tired, less time with family and most likely they will not have a day off at all. Right now they get one or two days off a week, but if they have a second job, that will most likely go away. YOU ARE NOT HELPING A PERSON WHEN YOU REDUCE THEIR HOURS, INCOME AND DAYS OFF.
Though well intentioned, this shows a real lack of understanding of the actual on the ground situation. Typical of State Legislators, they sit in their Sacramento office and listen to advocates instead of getting their shoes dirty and talking to the actual people involved. I would extend an invitation to any State Legislator to come and spend a day in our office to see the impact of some of their legislations. I can guarantee there are at least 10 things that they do not know exist or the impact it has on employers and employees, and the environment.
Meanwhile, contact your representatives directly, not through an organization, and point out to them the tremendous loss to employees if this legislation goes through. They won’t listen to your problems, but they may listen if you are discussing your employee’s concerns.