Starting January 1st, farm workers in California are now eligible to receive overtime pay after 9.5 hours of work.
While many advocacy groups say this is long overdue, some in the agricultural community caution this could cause a rise in the costs of fruits and vegetables at the grocery store.
For Santa Maria farm worker Reina Mendoza, her workday often starts before the sun comes up.
“When there’s a change in the hours [like Daylight Saving Time], we work starting at 5:30am or 6 am – it depends,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza works on a Guadalupe farm picking strawberries and other produce six days a week, 10 hours a day or more.
“It’s very hard work [and] sometimes it’s not the most gratifying work,” she explained.
Farm workers on farms and ranches with over 26 employees will start receiving overtime pay after 9.5 hours.
By 2022, they’ll start receiving overtime after a regular eight-hour workday, something Mendoza says is long overdue.
“I feel that this law should’ve been enforced, implemented years ago because it would’ve helped me with my kids; it would’ve helped me with my family and just having more time for them,” Mendoza said.
C.A.U.S.E. or the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, argues this bill will help attract more work workers to the fields – something California farmers have been struggling with.
Some in the ag industry see it differently.
“No, I think it’s still going to be a struggle. The reduction of overtime isn’t going to contribute to more workers coming,” said Dan Sutton, General Manager of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange.
Sutton says the increasing costs of agricultural regulations could cause the price of fruits and vegetables to eventually go up and even lead some farms to switch to automation.
“At some point in the near future we’ll see more automation coming into what we do out here on the farm and it’ll be something that we have to look at moving forward to manage our costs here on the farm.”
For farms that have 25 or fewer employees, they get a three-year extension before having to phase in these changes.
Farm workers will receive double time after working a seventh consecutive day in a workweek.