Gov. Brown signs controversial farmworker overtime bill

Lorena gonzalezBy 2022, California’s agriculture workers will have the same overtime pay structure as most other employees in the state after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure into law on Monday.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, took to Twitter to show her exuberance, especially after having been named in Politico’s national list of 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016,” which called the San Diego Democrat a “progressive ideas lab” (partially for this bill).

Farmworkers currently earn overtime pay past 60 hours in a work week and past 10 hours in a work day. But starting in 2019, the threshold will lower incrementally until 2022 when workers will earn time-and-a-half pay beyond 40 hours in a week and eight hours in a day under the new law.

Contentious debate

Democratic supporters often argued that passing this measure was a matter of “fairness,” while detractors, mostly Republicans, said farming isn’t like other professions, as it’s susceptible to uncertainty caused by weather delays, perishable goods, seasonal schedules and external price setting. 

“It’s the same old story of a government that is out of touch with the reality of living, working and doing business in California,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Nicolaus, said in a statement.

“If you understand agriculture, you know that this new law will result in lost wages for farm workers,” added Gallagher, who is a partner in his family’s farming business. “There are no real winners with AB1066.”

The matter wasn’t a simple partisan issue, though. Many Democrats either voted against or didn’t vote earlier this year when the measure was defeated.

But through a controversial procedural gimmick known as a “gut and amend,” which circumvents the chamber’s rules, Gonzalez was able to bring the bill back to life. And, with the help of the United Farm Workers, she rallied enough Democratic support for passage.

Of course, even that wasn’t so simple. Days before passage, Gonzalez had brought UFW members to the Capitol for an early morning show of support and to watch the vote from the galleries.

However, there still wasn’t enough support and Gonzalez and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon suffered an embarrassment when the floor session ended without a vote. But after proponents spent the next few days whipping votes, the measure passed.

Democratic Assemblymembers Susan Eggman of Stockton, Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks, Marc Levine of San Rafael and Jim Wood of Healdsburg did not vote.

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