HANFORD – Kings County supervisors are unanimously opposing a farmworker overtime bill that would put farm laborers on the same eight hours in a day/40 hours in a week overtime schedule as workers in other California industries.
Currently, farmworkers are on a different setup: They work up to 10 hours a day and 60 hours a week before overtime pay kicks in.
The controversial bill, AB 1066, passed the Senate 21-14 on Monday, sending it back to the Assembly, where it is likely to face difficulty passing.
A virtually identical bill was narrowly defeated in the Assembly earlier this year.
AB 1066 is backed by labor organizations, including the United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation.
County supervisors mailed a letter to state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, and Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, last week that cited the "unpredictable nature and seasonality of agriculture production" in arguing for the current 10 hour a day/60 hours a week standard for farm work.
In addition to opposition from Kings County supervisors, the bill is also being opposed by the Kings County Farm Bureau.
In an e-newsletter published over the weekend, the farm bureau argued that the proposed legislation would cause growers to cut workers' hours.
Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, refuted those assertions.
Smith said similar arguments were offered by employers in other industries when legislation switched those industries to the standard eight hours in a day/40 hours in a week overtime rule.
He cited janitorial work and the car wash business as examples.
"This is the type of argument that we've seen historically from businesses whenever a wage increase is proposed," Smith said. "Rarely if ever does it end up happening that workers are less well off than before."
Smith said the bill is a "basic, fundamental measure of equality."
Kings County Supervisor Craig Pedersen, who has farmed in the Lemoore area, said the agriculture industry is different and that the bill would hurt farmworkers as well as many growers.
Pedersen, echoing the farm bureau's position, predicted that growers would cut hours.
He said commodity prices for crops are set by a competitive world market and that growers cannot pass increased costs on to consumers.
"[The bill] would cause a lot of damage," he said. "It's made out to be positive, but it hurts the people it intends to help and it hurts the businesses that employ them. It's an all-around lose-lose."
Pedersen said the bill would favor more consolidation in the industry and hurt smaller operations more than bigger ones.
He cited Paramount Farms, a huge, vertically-integrated agribusiness operation based in Kern County that Pedersen believes would be better able to handle cost increases under the bill than smaller farms.
Pedersen said a large company like Paramount has access to a bigger labor pool than smaller operations.
"This [bill] is just promoting corporate agriculture," he said. "It just promotes this transition to a more corporate-based condensation."