Sacramento, Calif. – Supporters of Assembly Bill 1066 may have hurt the very workers they sought to help with their ‘end around’ effort to get the measure passed. Supporters said it’s about equity; Ag interests have said that based on a study by Highland Economics there are 3 major impacts that AB 1066 would have on California farm workers, their employers and the State’s economy. You can read it here. None of those impacts seem to be good.
But no matter how hard the Ag interests lobbied, AB 1066 cleared the Senate first, after it’s initial failure in the Assembly as AB 2757 in early June. After that defeat, the bill’s author Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, gutted the original language from AB 1066, a bill she already had in the Senate and reworded it with the “Phase-in Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016.” The stunt worked, and on Monday(8.29.16), AB 1066 passed the Assembly on a 44-32 vote with 4 abstentions. So now, if Governor Brown signs this bill into law, beginning in January of 2019, farm workers will be on a 4 year journey to reduce the ceiling of overtime pay from the current ten hours to eight hours. They’ll also be required to take one day off every seven days, limiting overtime wages. Current law allows for double-time pay for ‘seventh day’ hours, so this proposal actually takes that pay out of worker’s pockets.
Supporters including the United Farm Workers held rallies and fasts at the Capital to voice their support on lawmakers. Member Gonzalez, had spoken on the steps of the State Capital two weeks ago calling out the plight of farm workers and announcing the fast. “This is really about a class of California workers that should be equal to all other workers in the state,” she said. “In 1976, California became a national leader on workers’ rights when it enacted overtime protections for farmworkers. Once again, California is poised to lead our nation on this matter of equity and justice.”
But this measure is a “no win for anyone,” according to Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO, Ryan Jacobsen. “It’s amazing the amount of miss-information what was spread during this process,” says Jacobsen. “The fact of the matter is, with labor being such a critical component for agriculture and the costs going up, there is no doubt that less land will be farmed in California as a result.” Jacobsen went on to say that, “What’s shameful in all of this is that two Central Valley lawmakers, 32nd District member Rudy Salas and 31st District member Joaquin Arambula voted against their constituents and voted for the passage of AB 1066. The Speaker put so much pressure on the Assembly Members for passage that these members went against what constituents wanted them to do.” Time will tell how that may affect their legislative tenure.
But will Governor Brown sign this measure into law? Jacobsen says it too early to tell, “But we’ll know within 30 days,” he said.
Another opponent of the UFW backed overtime measure, which by the way says Jacobsen only represents 1% of the farm workers this bill will impact, is the Western Growers Association. WGA CEO Tom Nassif agrees with Jacobsen that the seasonal nature of agriculture will produce an opposite effect of the bills intent to improve wages for farm workers, “Employers in all industries intentionally manage overtime costs, which are generally reserved for anomalies in the work day or work week. Agriculture is a seasonal industry with limited opportunities for farmworkers to earn full paychecks during peak harvest. While AB 1066 claims to protect agricultural employees, this short-sighted policy will have the opposite effect, reducing the number of hours available to and earnings potential of farmworkers,” says Nassif.
In a California Chamber of Commerce article on the passage of AB 1066 the agency noted a letter written by a coalition of Agribusinesses in the state, saying along with labor costs California saddles its farmers with the highest regulatory costs and compliance burdens in the nation. Below is a partial list:
- Electricity costs for industrial users that are 63.4% higher than the national average.
- Gasoline costs nearly one-third higher than the national average.
- Diesel costs 14% higher than the national average.
- The highest workers’ compensation premium rates in the nation.
- California-only restrictions on use of approved crop protection tools that increase the risk of crop loss due to pests and disease.
- Water supply costs driven by regulatory loss of surface water supplies, forcing farmers to drill new and deeper wells, pay more for energy to pump, and scramble to purchase expensive water (if it can be found and conveyed) from others.
So where is the economic future of agriculture headed in California? Says Jacobsen, “Offshore Ag imports will increase. It’s like the state’s legislature is trying to put California agriculture out of business.”
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