The Crush.March2022 - 4

Ag Overtime Issue Divides Democrats
While many people believe the ag overtime issue was settled
Opinion Analysis by Michael Miiller
in 2016 when the California Legislature passed a bill to
phase out the ag overtime exemption, (which was signed
into law by Governor Brown that September), the political
consequences of the issue continue to be felt today by
Democrat candidates who voted against the bill.
In 2016, when then-Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez
(D-San Diego) was pushing AB 2757, to require overtime pay
for ag workers, I served as chief-of-staff to Assemblymember
Marc Levine (D-Marin County). Gonzalez pulled out all the
stops to pass her bill. She helped organize a rally at the
Capitol involving hundreds of United Farm Worker (UFW)
members to pressure each and every Democrat lawmaker to
support AB 2757.
When UFW members arrived at Levine's Capitol office, I
reminded them their union was fully capable of obtaining
overtime pay for them through collective bargaining. In fact,
AB 2757 included language that exempted ag employers
whose workers are unionized. A collective bargaining
agreement would override any overtime requirement under
state law.
The agricultural community countered the UFW's efforts with
an equally energetic lobbying campaign. Sonoma County
growers explained to Levine and his staff that the economics
of agriculture and winegrapes didn't allow for dramatic
increases in labor costs: AB 2757, if passed, would actually
reduce take home pay for most ag workers.
Grower arguments were persuasive, and AB 2757 was
defeated on the Assembly floor, but that didn't stop
Gonzalez. She engineered an amendment to AB 1066,
which was pending in the Senate, to include the language
of AB 2757, which had been rejected by the Assembly. The
Senate passed the amended version of AB 1066, returning
it to the Assembly for reconsideration. In the interim, a
few assemblymembers reconsidered their position on ag
overtime and switched their votes, NO to AYE. AB 1066 was
approved. Levine refused to support either bill and asked his
colleagues to vote against both bills.
Six years later, Democrat candidates who failed to support
AB 1066 and are running for office this year find themselves
under attack from the progressive wing of the Democratic
Party. For example, Levine, now a candidate for Insurance
Commissioner, has been attacked by incumbent Insurance
Commissioner Ricardo Lara. Commissioner Lara, endorse
Page 4 | March 2022
by the California Democratic Party, in his convention speech
strongly touted his immigrant
roots and argued that Levine is
" anti-farmworker. "
Lara's campaign literature
includes a photo of Levine at
the Petaluma Butter & Egg
Days Parade and lists " the facts
about Marc Levine's anti-union
record. " Lara claims Levine
is " AGAINST Overtime for
Farm Workers, " while claiming
for himself the mantle of a
" champion for working families
and Democratic values. "
Levine is not the only Assembly
Democrat to feel political
blow back from this issue.
The progressive wing of
the Democratic party has hounded Assemblymember Jim
Cooper with accusations of being anti-farmworker in past reelection
campaigns. Cooper is now running for Sacramento
County Sheriff and will no doubt see these accusations
Without regard to the races for Insurance Commissioner or
Sacramento County Sherriff, it's clear that Democrats who
vote against UFW legislation may pay a heavy political price.
Hanging over the continuing policy debate on ag overtime in
the legislature is the reality that a vote on this issue can haunt
moderate lawmakers for years to come.
With the ag overtime law fully phased in for most ag
employers, growers' predictions proved true: growers cannot
afford the higher labor expense and the ag overtime law is
not delivering increased take-home pay for ag workers. Ag
workers are working fewer hours and losing out on the wages
that come with those hours.
Given this reality, some ag workers would welcome the
opportunity to work four ten-hour days: a 4-10-40 workweek.
Most California employers and employees have the option to
schedule such a workweek, when there is mutual agreement
to do so, subject to state approval. This applies to ag
employment too, except for one crucial distinction. Under an
approved 4-10-40 workweek, a construction worker would
receive the standard hourly rate of pay, but an ag employer

The Crush.March2022

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