Earlier this year, the Obama Administration expanded overtime pay protections to more than 4 million working Americans.
Last week, California lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind Legislation that allows farm workers to get paid overtime like all other workers.
Right now, in 2016, a Jim Crow-era Federal law excludes professions like farm workers, maids and domestic workers from overtime. Professions almost exclusively held by people of color. The fact that 78 years later that law is still on the books, prohibiting farm workers from earning a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, is reprehensible.
In 1938, it was passed to discriminate against people of color and all these years later it still discriminates, now predominately against Latino farm workers.
While the law was not changed at the Federal level due to Congressional inaction, states have the right to expand benefits. After decades of fighting to correct this injustice, California is close to righting an historic wrong.
The bill sponsored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that recently passed would gradually raise overtime pay for farm workers, requiring time-and-a-half for more than 8 hours worked in a day or 40 hours worked in a week. Farm workers who work more than 12 hours a day would get double pay.
It means a hard working mother or father who rises before dawn in the summer heat or on a freezing winter’s day and gets home well after the kids are asleep will finally get the pay they deserve but have been denied.
The Legislation didn’t pass on its own. Hillary Clinton was the first National leader to advocate for the change, Obama Administration officials, including Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and a diverse coalition of labor, immigrant, civil rights and social organizations, was also strong advocates.
Now the only remaining hurdle to level the playing field for farm workers is Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.
If we can do it in California, the largest agriculture producer in the Nation and the State that produces more than half of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts, it would be the latest example of the Golden State leading the Nation in workers’ rights. It will yet again be a model for other states to follow.
Today as we celebrate Labor Day, farm workers in California can't wait to rejoice with the passing of this historic legislation.
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