By: Vashti Kelly, Programs Manager
In September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law historic legislation that will progressively include more of California’s farm worker community among the ranks of those working in other industries, who are receiving paid compensation for overtime. This was a huge win towards leveling the playing field when it comes to farm workers’ protections and rights. However, now there is rising concern that the new minimum wage and the expansion of overtime laws for farm workers is just another blow to an already declining industry.
In an electronic survey conducted, between October 31st and November 11th of this year, among 18% of the Western Growers Association members the consensus is bleak at best. Western Growers, is an association of California, Arizona and Colorado farmers, packers, and shippers responsible for approximately 50% of our nation’s produce.
- 4% of farm companies plan to cut back hours offered to farmworkers;
- 78% of those growers polled said they plan to mechanize existing labor-intensive jobs;
- 33% of growers plan to reduce California-based production;
- 29% of surveyed members plan to shift to less labor-intensive crops;
- 67% of growers said they won’t be able to increase prices to their buyers to offset the increased labor and production costs; and
- 32% of growers said they will cut costs related to farmworker benefits.
It will be a game of wait and see as we usher in 2017, unfortunately it is anything but a game as the impact for both growers and farm workers could have devastating consequences. Agricultural interests and economics against workers’ rights is nothing new, this is what the labor movement has always been about and continues to divide those on either side. According to, a study commissioned by the Western Growers Association mentioned in the Los Angeles Times, “farmworker wages could fall by about $1.5 billion, jobs could decrease by 35,000 to 78,000 and agricultural production could see an almost $8-billion drop in a one-year period, assuming full implementation of the new law.” Or, assuming growers can withstand overtime costs and remain profitable, “wage earnings could increase by about $2,200 per worker.”
California is currently one of the few states that requires overtime pay for farm workers and this new law will bring agriculture in stride with the national standard of other industries. As proponents of farm workers, we are in favor of establishing an even platform from which to earn a living wage and provide for their families. There are of course different points of view on the subject, however, it seems only fair that those same hands that harvest food our nation be able to feed themselves.
To learn more about Fair Labor Standards Act in Agriculture click here: https://www.dol.gov/whd/ag/ag_flsa.htm