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Padilla introducing Senate bill to extend OT pay to agriculture

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U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla of California is introducing a bill that would extend overtime pay to agricultural workers — a divisive topic in the industry even as the notion of a standard 40-hour work week has been a focal point for advocates since the dawn of the labor movement. And that debate has raged for generations. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act established federal standards for minimum wage and overtime pay, but it excluded millions of domestic and agricultural workers, most of whom Padilla says were people of color.

Called the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, the measure would directly amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to end the overtime and minimum wage exemptions for farm workers. According to a fact sheet on Padilla’s website, the bill would gradually implement overtime pay over the course of four years.

Specifically, it would require employers, beginning in 2023, to compensate agricultural workers for hours worked in excess of their regular hours (i.e., 55 hours in 2023, 50 hours in 2024, 45 hours in 2025, and 40 hours in 2026) at not less than one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate. For employers with 25 or fewer employees, the overtime pay requirements begin in 2026.

A similar resolution was introduced in the U.S. House in May 2021 but was referred to committee with no action taken.

“The discriminatory exclusion of farm workers from overtime pay has continued for far too long. It is time we right this grievous national wrong by finally extending overtime pay to all U.S. farm workers. Farm workers help put food on our tables and deserve equal workplace rights,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres.

The UFW Foundation has a strong connection to Padilla after the Democrat became 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. A few days later, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey became the second senator to take part in the campaign.

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California Democrat Alex Padilla became the first U.S. senator to work alongside farm workers as part of the Take Our Jobs campaign. (Image courtesy of UFW Foundation)

According to the UFW Foundation, California is the only state that currently provides overtime pay to all agricultural workers after 40 hours a week or eight hours a day. In Washington state, only dairy workers currently receive overtime pay after working 40 hours a week. All other Washington state farm workers receive overtime pay after working 55 hours per week. Few other states, such as New York, offer overtime pay to farm workers but at higher thresholds and long-term phase-ins.

As written in Padilla’s bill, the overtime pay requirements would not apply to employees who are the parent, spouse, child, or other member of the employer’s immediate family.

In a column posted recently to AGDAILY, the author wrote: “In practice, how will OT work? Farmers have a fixed quantity of dollars to allocate to payroll. Lower the OT threshold, and they’ll 1) hire more workers, and 2) cap their hours at 40. Less take-home pay per worker. How does that model worker justice? You have to wonder if farmworker advocacy groups can see beyond their demonization of farmers to the very palpable collateral damage.”

There is also significant concern from from small- and middle-scale producers that a shift in the overtime standards will favor larger farms and ag corporations, as they would be more able to weather any financial impact to the operations. Smaller producers generally have smaller margins, and it’s speculated that overtime pay would lead to more consolidation in the agricultural industry.

Padilla says that The Fairness for Farm Workers Act is endorsed by over 140 organizations and was included in the Biden Administration’s immigration plan. It is sponsored by Padilla and co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Catherine Cortez Masto, Ron Wyden, Chris Van Hollen, Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown, and Ed Markey. As of this publication date, the bill has not yet been assigned a number in the Senate.

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Working at a New Jersey farm, Sen. Cory Booker spent a day harvesting lettuce, cleaning leafy greens, and planting tomatoes. (Image courtesy of UFW Foundation)
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