With little fanfare, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed historic legislation that would expand overtime pay for California farmworkers.
Assembly Bill 1066, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena S. Gonzalez (D-San Diego), calls for a phase-in of new overtime rules over four years beginning in 2019.
It would lower the current 10-hour-day threshold for overtime by half an hour each year until it reaches the standard eight-hour day by 2022. It also would phase in a 40-hour standard workweek for the first time. The governor would be able to suspend any part of the process for a year depending on economic conditions.
The decision followed intense showdowns on the floor of the state Assembly, where a similar proposal died in June a few votes short of the majority it needed to pass.
“We are letting the signature speak for itself,” said a spokesperson for Brown.
The United Farm Workers of America, which sponsored the bill, says it addresses an injustice first inflicted on farmworkers nearly eight decades ago. In a critique similar to those used by opponents of increasing the minimum wage, opponents argued it could backfire on farmworkers, as it saddles farmers and growers with higher costs and could force them to limit work hours and hire more employees.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers union, said he was grateful to the lawmakers who voted for the legislation and to Brown for "making a tough decision like this and changing the course of history."
AB 1066 "would give license to farmworkers in other states fighting for the same thing," Rodriguez said. "I'm crying tears of joy after so many years that farmworkers have worked so hard to win a significant victory like this that will dramatically change their lives."
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established minimum wage and overtime standards, but excluded all agricultural workers, the majority of whom at the time were African American.
In California, the Legislature exempted farmworkers from earning overtime pay in 1941. That prohibition remained unchanged until 1976, when the state Industrial Welfare Commission ordered overtime pay for farmworkers after 10 hours on the job on any single day and 60 hours in a week. Hourly workers in other jobs across the state receive overtime after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week.
There have been fights over the issue twice before in recent years. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar overtime bill in 2010. Another bill in 2012 passed through both houses of the Legislature, but was killed when it came back to the Assembly for a final vote.