Farmworker overtime passes easy test in Senate, faces challenge in Assembly

Migrant farm laborAs expected, a bill expanding overtime pay for farmworkers passed the Senate on Monday along party lines. It moves to the Assembly next, where it died earlier this year.

While farmworkers do get overtime, there is a much higher threshold than other professions — this bill would bring the over-time thresholds more in-line.

Supporters argue it’s a matter of fairness — that farmworkers should have the same overtime and break protections as everyone else. Opponents say farmers can’t afford it and that an industry dependent on weather, perishable goods and external price-setting can’t be regulated the same as other professions.

“This vote boils down to a moral argument,” said Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who, like many of his colleagues, added that the doomsday economic arguments that workers will lose hours or jobs were either overblown or untrue.

Of course, opponents disagreed. Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said that increased labor costs would force farmers to reduce those costs, especially as the minimum wage hikes begin to kick in.

“What’s been accomplished? Maybe a noble goal where we can pat ourselves on our back,” Nielsen said, adding that “the victory would be hollow.”

Gut and amend

What made this bill particularly interesting is that the last iteration died a few months ago and so Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, inserted the language into another bill — a process called gut and amend.

By gutting and amending, the San Diego Democrat’s proposal will circumvent some of the normal steps in the legislative process. However, that alone won’t change members’ minds and it’s unclear if Gonzalez or other supporters have secured enough votes in the Assembly for final passage.

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