Celebrating the Fruits of Farmworker Overtime Pay in the Nation’s Capital

October 17, 2016 /

By Randy Villegas

WASHINGTON D.C. – As I did my weekly grocery shopping here in the nation’s capital, I stood in the produce section and smiled. “Meet our Farmers …Tulare & Kern Counties, CA,” the sign read.

Kern County’s farmworkers truly feed the world, and knowing that they will be getting paid the overtime they deserve, thanks to recently passed legislation, is yet one more example of how California is paving the way toward progress.

AB1066 will slowly implement overtime pay for farmworkers in California beginning in 2019, lowering the 10-hour a day threshold for overtime by half an hour each year until 2022.

A number of people, including Vince Fong, who is running to represent Kern in the Assembly, came out in opposition to the measure, arguing that we need to “stand by our local farmers.” He threw out statistics about how our state is the number one producer of nine different crops, and that almost half of all fruits, nuts, and vegetables in the country come from Kern.

Exactly! And none of that would be possible were it not for our farmworkers, which is why they deserve the overtime pay that most workers across the country receive.

Eight decades ago farmworkers were exempted from the federal minimum wage and overtime standards. As a result, many farmworkers continue to live in conditions of poverty. I know this from personal experience.

Growing up my mother and several of my family members worked in the fields. Even after grueling 10-hour days the wages they took home were barely enough to cover the basics of food and shelter.

Farmworkers work tirelessly and often in extreme conditions. Just this past summer, three women in Kern passed away while working in the grape fields < http://abc30.com/news/death-of-3-farm-workers-in-kern-county-may-have-been-caused-by-the-extreme-heat/1449817/>. They died working. They died trying to make a living. Our farmworkers work to the point of exhaustion, and sadly we still have people who oppose their right to overtime pay.

To Mr. Fong and other opponents of AB1066, I say consider the words of F.D.R: “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country … By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.”

Uttered nearly a century ago, those words are as relevant if not more so today, and especially for those who are working to feed their families, and the nation.

I challenge Mr. Fong and other critics to spend a summer in the shoes of our farmworkers and work alongside them. Better yet, I challenge you to work under the previous overtime conditions, and still tell me that you feel the same way.

I applaud the United Farmworkers and members of the California legislature who voted in favor of AB 1066. Labor leader and Civil Rights activist Cesar Chaves would be proud of the work that the UFW has accomplished this year.

And I am proud of my state for paving the road toward progress. As I eat my fruit on the other side of the country, I smile. I smile because things will be better for farmworkers in our state, and perhaps that will improve conditions for those in other states as well.

Kern County truly feeds the world … And for that very reason, our farmworkers deserve to be treated with respect, appreciation, and properly compensated for the work that they do.