California Labor &
Employment Law Blog
Aug. 3 2010

Schwarzenegger Vetoes Proposed Overtime Legislation For Agricultural Workers

Topics: New Laws & Legislation, Wage & Hour Issues

On July 28, 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed Senate Bill 1121, which would have provided overtime compensation to agricultural workers for workdays that exceed eight hours. Agricultural workers have been specifically exempted from such overtime requirements in the past and this exemption continues as a result of the Governor's veto of SB 1121. Governor Schwarzenegger included the following explanatory comments in his veto message to the State Senate:

"In 1999, California enacted sweeping legislation concerning overtime wages and adopted the requirements that overtime be generally paid after eight hours of work. However, in enacting the "Eight-Hour-Day Restoration and Workplace Flexibility Act of 1999" the Legislature specifically exempted agricultural workers from such overtime requirements, recognizing that agricultural work is different from other industries: it is seasonal, subject to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, and requires the harvesting of perishable goods. Indeed, while California is the most progressive state in the nation by allowing overtime pay for agricultural employees after 10 hours of work, federal law exempts workers employed in agriculture from overtime pay altogether. Senate Bill 1121 would cast aside these longstanding rules and would require overtime pay for agricultural workers after eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. My administration has made great strides to improve the lives of agricultural workers. I have signed legislation to increase the minimum wage, fought hard to improve our state's infrastructure to ensure adequate water supplies for our agricultural regions, and enacted the first-in-the-nation outdoor heat stress regulations to help keep agricultural workers safe. Unfortunately, this measure, while well-intended, will not improve the lives of California's agricultural workers and instead will result in additional burdens on California businesses, increased unemployment, and lower wages. In order to remain competitive against other states that do not have such wage requirements, businesses will simply avoid paying overtime. Instead of working 10-hour days, multiple crews will be hired to work shorter shifts, resulting in lower take home pay for all workers. Businesses trying to compete under the new wage rules may become unprofitable and go out of business, resulting in further damage to our already fragile economy. Finally, it should be noted that Senate Bill 1121 would not just change the rules governing overtime pay for agricultural workers, but would also apply California's confusing and burdensome rest and meal requirements. Unfortunately, while there have been several attempts to clean up this section of law, efforts at comprehensive reform continue to fail. There is no reason to exacerbate this continuing problem by adding agricultural workers to it. For these reasons, I am unable to sign this bill."

Agricultural employers large and small had vigorously opposed this legislation for many of the reasons identified by the Governor in his decision to veto SB 1121. Key concerns from agricultural employers included the uniquely seasonal and weather-sensitive nature of agricultural work, which would make the proposed overtime requirements extremely difficult in light of the already challenging scheduling considerations in agricultural work. Proponents of SB 1121 argued that exempting agricultural workers from overtime was discriminatory to farm workers. Ultimately, however, the Governor concluded that SB 1121 would be too damaging and burdensome to California's agricultural economy, while also acknowledging the existing confusion regarding California's meal and rest break requirements.

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About the Editor

Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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