Farm worker OT bill passes over objections about rule violations

Lorena gonzalezA bill expanding overtime pay for farm workers passed the Assembly on Monday and now heads to the governor for a final verdict.

The bill would, over the course of a few years, bring the overtime structure for farm workers in line with that of many other professions by giving overtime past eight hours in a day, where currently the threshold is at 10 hours, and over 40 hours in a week, where it’s currently at 60 hours.

Democrats, the primary supporters of the measure, largely argued that it is a matter of fairness and dignity.

“Right now, we’re telling our farm workers ‘You’re different, you’re less than other workers,'” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland. 

Opponents, largely Republicans, argued that the lower threshold would force farmers to cut hours to stay below the overtime rule and that increased labor costs could spur job loss. Democrats rebutted that the same argument was made during the debate to abolish slavery.

Gut and amend

Some members opposed on procedural grounds. Assembly rules prohibit a measure from being reintroduced if it had already been defeated during that legislative session — the same measure was defeated in the Assembly earlier this year.

Democrats overruled the challenge from Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, because they said the original text of the bill was not the same. The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, changed the language in a controversial process called a “gut and amend,” which is designed to circumvent the rules. 

Wagner then challenged that since the body decided the bill was different from the original text, it needed to be referred to a committee as the process requires, but Democrats overruled that as well.

The gut and amend process also violates rules of both chambers prohibiting “non-germane” amendments — those amendments that have nothing to do with the original bill. The original bill had to do with the use of non-employee contractors by school districts and community college districts.

The non-germane amendment point of order was not raised on Monday. 

Thursday’s misfire

Gonzalez had previously scheduled the vote for last Thursday, after having a demonstration at the Capitol with United Farm Workers supporters in the morning. And dozens of those union farm workers stayed for the vote.

However, as the day dragged on, it became clear that something was wrong. Members generally call for votes once they know that there is enough support to pass, as a failure can be embarrassing — so when session ended without a vote many on social media speculated that something had happened.

The farm workers protested for at least another hour, demanding a vote, outside the speaker’s office. Finally, Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, came out to calm the crowd, promising a vote on Monday. 

Gonzalez’s office declined to comment on what happened.


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