Politics

Farm workers lobby governor for overtime pay

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Farm workers in California were lobbying the governor on Tuesday. They want to get paid overtime after an eight-hour day, the same as most other workers, but farmers warn the end result may be that each worker ends up earning less money.

Led by State Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, dozens of farm workers marched to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office to hand deliver a bill that would pay time-and-a-half for those workers after eight hours in a day and 40 hours in a week. It's currently after 10 hours a day and 60 hours in a week.

Farmer workers say they deserve to be treated like California's millions of other hourly employees.

"The work in the field is really hard. It's hard and less pay," says Teresa Serrano, a grape picker from Salinas.

But agribusiness, a $36 billion a year industry in California, warns to be careful what you ask for. Farmers sometimes operate on slim margins and they say to keep payroll costs down, they will cut hours. In the end, that'll mean smaller paychecks for current workers who make about $9 to $10 an hour.

"What we're hearing farmers will do is they'll adjust work schedules, they'll add crews so that they'll be able to pay straight time, rather than overtime," says Richard Matteis from the California Farm Bureau.

One of the governor's aides accepted the bill and said he has not taken a position on the proposal yet.

Schwarzenegger has sympathized with farm workers before. He signed into law the nation's toughest heat regulations for outdoor workers and instituted more controls over pesticides.

But then the governor sided with farmers in vetoing a bill that would have made it easier for workers to unionize in the fields, so he could go either way.

To boost their cause on pay equity and even immigration reform, United Farm Workers earlier this year invited Americans to spend a day as a farm worker. While 8,000 nationwide inquired, only three actually picked crops.

"Once people learn about how difficult it is and how hard it is and how low the wages are and everything else, people did not continue to pursue it," says Arturo Rodriguez from the United Farm Workers.

The governor has 12 days to take action on the overtime bill.

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Tags:
arnold schwarzenegger, agriculture, politics, nannette miranda
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