Proposed Legislation on Overtime Could Hurt Farmers and Workers Alike

**Note: For important updated information on this legislation, please visit: https://www.myjobdependsonag.com/urgent-update-ag-overtime-bill-reintroduced-in-senate/

Farmers frequently struggle to comply with the increasing laws and regulations affecting operations.  This year could be a double whammy on agricultural employers.  On the heels of the recent crammed through hike in the minimum wage, newly proposed AB 2757 will remove overtime exemptions for agricultural employees.  This will require farm employers to pay overtime after 8 hours of work per day and 40 hours of work per week.

What Will Change?  Under current law, agricultural employees are exempt from the traditional requirement of overtime after eight hours of work.  Instead, employees receive overtime compensation after 10 hours per day and 60 hours per week.  AB 2757 would remove this exemption and would phase-in overtime requirements for agricultural workers, beginning in 2017, at 9.5 hours.  The thresholds would be further reduced each subsequent year until January 2020, at which point agricultural employees would receive overtime for work beyond eight hours daily or 40 hours weekly.

Who Does It Hurt?  The overtime exemption has long been based on seasonality of the industry and benefits employees by allowing them flexibility to work longer hours during the season.  Farmers cannot control when a crop is ready to be picked.  When it is ready, it must be harvested quickly to avoid spoilage, which may require 10 hour days and possibly six days a week.  When harvest is complete, the work slows down substantially.  A 10 hour workday allows employees to earn enough during the busy season to carry them during the slower months when they may only work five hours a day for five days a week, or be laid off completely.  Given the change to the overtime exemption, farmers may decide to allow fewer hours of work per worker to reduce the significant overtime cost.

lettuce harvest

Lettuce harvest, San Benito County, CA
Photo Credit Cameron Stevens

California’s family farmers will have difficulty competing with other states and nations if their labor costs are increased.    The cost of farming in California has risen by 36% over the past few years; inputs like seeds, fertilizer and electricity have all become significantly more expensive.  Most farm businesses are still reeling from the minimum wage increase to $10 per hour and this is just the beginning.  Because of the much higher overtime rates, it is expected that more employees will be hired and workers will receive fewer hours per week, meaning less opportunity to earn during the busy season. Thus, this bill hurts both farmers and workers.

What You Can Do.  AB 2757 is expected to be put up for a vote before the Assembly in the near future.  Prior versions of similar bills were close to passing so it is important to allow your representative to hear your voice. Representatives who hear nothing may assume there is no opposition.

Visit http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov to locate the representative in your district.  You can also consider contacting representatives in districts that do not have a strong ag industry as those members are less likely to hear from the people this law will impact.  A directory is located on line at http://assembly.ca.gov/assemblymembers. All Assembly members have websites with easy to use e-mail contact portals where you can comment on this legislation and request a meeting to discuss how this law will impact your operation.

Faith L. DriscollFaith L. Driscoll is an associate attorney at Walter Wilhelm Bauer and practices in the firm’s employment law group in California’s highest ag producing county. She is also the Legislative Director for the Tulare/Kings County Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. She can be reached at fdriscoll@W2Blaw.com.

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