Mike Hornick, Staff Writer
Mike Hornick, Staff Writer

It’s that time again in California. A bill that would give farm workers overtime pay after eight hours seems likely to reach Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The state Senate passed Assembly Bill 1313 on Aug. 20 with modification subject to final approval in the Assembly.

Under current law, overtime starts after 10 hours, or 60 in a week.

The weekly mark would be 40 under Assembly Bill 1313, backed by United Farm Workers.

Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed such a bill in 2010.

Harvesters’ exemption from the eight-hour rule is periodically challenged in the legislature.

Red meat is making the media rounds again, as only the cattle industry might appreciate.

Pay grade

Opponents have argued growers will run bigger crews or even automate to avoid additional overtime pay.

Individuals would earn less, they say.

Supporters ask if that logic would cause workers in other industries to lose their own eight-hour rights.

Obviously there’s no labor stampede to such concessions.

But the reasons go beyond simple self interest.

Automation or higher crew numbers can’t provide the sort of expertise that supposedly distinguishes office workers like myself from field workers.

Expertise means power and security. Everyone’s chasing it, clutching at quality to stem the tide of quantity.

Risk is inherent in that process. From time to time, numbers take revenge.

Harvesters specialize more than is often appreciated. They work with certain crops and not others, on some tasks and not others.

Their own expertise addresses both safety and production issues, and adds to their pay.

How much are they paid?

Salinas Valley grower-shippers aren’t in the habit of e-mailing me wage schedules, so I can’t generalize.

But more are making $14-18 hourly than people outside the industry realize.

Is it enough to pay a mortgage or send kids to college? I have my doubts.

But it holds its own against other industries — fast food, for sure. If the work were less demanding, more would sign on.

Such are the limits of this economy. For many, expenses threaten to outrun income.

Small farms have been poster children for the AB 1313 debate, but bigger operations are surely looking on.

Besides labor, landlords and legislature, they must answer to Wal-Mart and Kroger.


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