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April 2016, Volume 22, Number 2

California: Wages

AB 2757 would remove an exemption for agriculture by 2021 that requires overtime after 10 hours a day or 60 a week, different than the standard eight hours a day and 40 hours a week for nonfarm workers. California is one of four states that requires overtime pay for farm workers; the 10/60 standard was established in 1976.

Across the US, workers hired directly by the farm that employed them averaged 41 hours of work in July 2015; California farm workers averaged 43.6 hours. Most harvest workers are employed less than eight hours a day, but some work six days a week during the harvest. Workers most likely to be affected by an 8/40 overtime pay requirement are irrigators and equipment operators, who often work 60 or more hours a week during busy periods.

Sonoma county FLC Four Seasons Vineyard Management and Ridge Vineyards were fined $42,000 by DOL in February 2016 for poor housing for farm workers. Four Seasons deducted rent from the wages of workers and turned rental payments over to Ridge.

Two California Court of Appeals decisions in 2013 required employers to pay piece rate workers for nonproductive time and to pay them for rest periods at their average piece-rate earnings. Before these 2013 rulings, employers could pay only piece-rate wages to workers as long as their piece-rate earnings exceeded the minimum wage.

Many workers planned to sue for back wages. AB 1513 gave employers a "safe harbor," allowing them to pay any back wages due piece-rate workers after July 1, 2012 without penalties. However, employers who faced suits for unpaid productive time and for using fictitious workers to reduce wages were excluded from the safe harbor.

Two farms are affected by these exclusions, Gerawan Farming and Fowler Packaging. Both face UFW-initiated suits, and both sued in January 2016 to have the AB 1513 exemption declared unconstitutional.

Employment. Agriculture is often characterized as an industry of small farmers producing similar commodities from similarly sized farms. However, a higher share of the workers employed on California farms are employed on large farms with 1,000 or more employees, 17 percent during the third quarter of 2014, than in all California industries, 14 percent.

Indeed, 64 percent of farm workers were employed on farms with 100 or more employees during the third quarter of 2014, compared to 45 percent of workers in all California establishments. Crop support workers were most likely to be employed on large farms, almost 80 percent were employed by firms with 100 or more employees.

Small farms, those with less than 10 employees during the third quarter of 2014, employed seven percent of all farm workers, while fewer-than-10 nonfarm establishments employed 15 percent of all California workers. Livestock workers were most likely to be employed on small farms, about 10 percent were on farms with less than 10 employees.

ACA. Beginning January 1, 2016, employers of 50 or more full-time workers must offer health insurance to their employees or pay a penalty. FLCs report that insurers are charging them at least $300 per month per employee. Workers can be required to contribute up to 9.5 percent of their earnings for health insurance, so that a worker earning $450 a week can be required to contribute almost $43 for health insurance.

Most workers decline to contribute for health insurance. National Agricultural Worker Survey data suggest that 85 percent of farm worker children, and over half of women in farm worker households, obtain health insurance through government programs.

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