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California lawmakers, faith leaders begin fast in support of overtime pay for farm workers

California lawmakers and religious leaders will fast over the next 24 hours in support of a bill that would phase in overtime pay for farm workers in four years.

Gathered on the north steps of the Capitol, pastors led prayers to start the fasting period, and legislators recounted their own experiences in the fields, describing their personal ties to the laborers whose backbreaking work brings the majority of the produce grown in California to stores and tables.

AB 1066 "is about the simple idea that there is a set of workers that is equal to each and every other worker in the state of California," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who revived the legislation after a similar bill she authored was killed on the Assembly floor in June.

AB 1066 would phase in farm worker overtime starting in 2019, lowering the current 10-hour day to the standard 8-hour day, and establishing for the first time a 40-hour standard workweek over the next four years. 

Supporters of the effort have argued that existing overtime allowances for farm workers are too limited compared with other jobs. Opponents say it could impose greater burdens on farmers and the agricultural industry, causing cost increases and spurring some growers to leave the state.

More than 100 people across the country are taking part in the fast, which will conclude Wednesday with a ceremony at Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament.

Juanita Ontiveros, who comes from a long line of farmworkers and who picked crops as a young woman, said the bill would correct a targeted injustice.

"I don't think anyone who knows the struggles that farmworkers go through can just sit there and let this happen," she said. "Farmworkers are the ones who really feed the nation and yet they can't provide for themselves."


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