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January 2022, Volume 28, Number 1

California: Wages, Overtime

California’s minimum wage for employers with 26 or more employees rose to $15 on January 1, 2022. Large farm employers must also pay overtime wages to farm workers after eight hours worked in a day or 40 hours during a week. California sheep farmers must raise the monthly salaries of herders who remain with their flocks 24/7 from $1,955 to $4,286 on January 1, 2022. The state’s 175 sheep farmers employ about 350 H-2A herders from Peru.

The effects of 8/40 overtime on farm employers and workers is uncertain. Before AB 1066 was enacted, there were predictions that three major types of workers would be affected, equipment operators, irrigators, and dairy employees. The relative scarcity of equipment operators to operate expensive machines was expected to lead to more overtime pay, there were expected to be efforts to hire more irrigators to reduce overtime pay, and dairy farmers were expected to automate in order to save on overtime pay.

Most farm workers are employed to tend and harvest crops, and many work eight hours or less a day, especially when engaged in strenuous hand-labor tasks such as harvesting fruit from trees.

Other states are requiring or considering overtime for farm workers, including Washington, New York, Colorado and Massachusetts. There are many questions about how 8/40 overtime has affected California farmers and workers, but little reliable data. USDA’s FLS reported that directly hired farm workers in California averaged 42.6 hours a week in 2018, 43.1 in 2019, 41.5 in 2020, and 41.3 in 2021. These data are not published by type of farm or worker job title.

US dairies are beginning to embrace the automated milking systems developed by Lely and DeLaval and adopted in Europe over the past quarter century. Free flow automation systems allow cows to choose when to be milked, while guided flow systems allow cows to pass through one-way gates to be fed and milked. The cost of automated milking systems has dropped by 40 percent over the past decade.

The city of Gonzales in the Salinas Valley, which includes many farm workers, had one of the state’s highest vaccination rates in Fall 2021, with 98 percent of eligible residents receiving at least one shot. The city of Salinas had a 90 percent vaccination rate, and Imperial County 85 percent. The cooperation of vegetable growers, local governments and health clinics is credited for the high vaccination rates of residents.

Workers at Constellation’s Simi Winery protested during the annual Harvest Celebration in October 2021, demanding hazard pay when they work during periods of wildfire smoke. The workers say that they earn less than $2,500 a month, and most did not receive federal covid support because they are unauthorized.

Bank of America distributed $111 billion for California’s Employment Development Department in 2020, including at least 10 percent that was lost to fraud as thousands of prepaid debit cards went to prisoners or to fictitious people. Bank of America has a fifth of its branches and a third of its mortgage loan balances in California, and has been issuing UI benefits for EDD via prepaid debit cards since 2010, receiving a fee from merchants when the cards are used.

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