June 25, 2018

Harris Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Labor Protections for Farm Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, on the 80th Anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris, Dianne Feinstein (both D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act - legislation to strengthen critical protections for farm workers as they face long hours and exposure to heat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 100 farm workers suffer injury each day and face the risk of missing work. Average farm workers are paid a salary at or near the federal poverty line with most not getting paid any overtime pay at all. The Fairness for Farm Workers Act amends the FLSA to grant overtime protections to farm workers who work more than 40 hours a week, and eliminates most remaining exemptions to the minimum wage for farm workers. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) will introduce companion legislation in the House later today.

“Farm workers suffer more than most due to their daily grind and exposure to the sun, especially during harvest season when they work often over 12 hours a day with no overtime pay,” said Senator Harris. “This bill will attempt to correct some of the injustices they face and in particular guarantee they will get overtime pay, and minimum wage which they are not entitled to by law right now. This is a matter of basic fairness and justice.”

“Farm workers put in long hours in tough conditions to drive the agricultural economy in this country – they should be able to support their families and put food on their own tables,” said Senator Warren. “This bill is about getting these hard workers the pay they have earned and deserve.”

“Farmworkers toil for long hours in some of the toughest conditions and they deserve the same protections provided to employees in all other industries,” said Senator Feinstein. “Our bill will ensure farmworkers aren’t subjected to unfair labor practices and are appropriately compensated when working overtime.”

“America’s farm workers deserve to be paid for the work they do – often under physically demanding, dangerous conditions that contribute to exploitation,” said Senator Hirono. “By ending the discriminatory denial of overtime pay, this bill would help ensure farm workers can earn a living wage.”

As enacted in 1938, the FLSA excluded agricultural workers from its minimum wage and overtime protections. These exclusions, targeted at the primarily African American workforce, were included in several pieces of “New Deal” legislation to earn the support of southern congressmen. While the FLSA has afforded many farm workers minimum wage protections since 1966, to this day, most agricultural employees do not have to be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week.

The Fairness for Farm Workers Act:

  • Amends Section 7 of the FLSA (29 U.S.C. 207) to require time-and-a-half overtime pay for all agricultural workers, with additional compliance time for small farms
    • Phases in the requirements over four years beginning in 2019, and gives employers with twenty-five or fewer employers an extra three years to comply.
  • Amends Section 13 of the FLSA (29 U.S.C. 213) to remove exemptions to overtime for agriculture generally and to end the exemptions for overtime and minimum wage requirements for certain small farms, hand harvest laborers, non-local minors, and range livestock production
    • Note: the exemption for family farms (wherein employees are immediate family members of the employer) is not touched in this bill and continues.
  • The bill also removes overtime exemptions for workers employed in irrigation projects, livestock auctions incidental to farm work, small country grain elevators, certain sugar processing, certain types of intra-state transportation and preparation for transportation of fruits and vegetables, cotton ginning, and cotton compressing.
    • For those employees who already have limited protections under FLSA, the bill’s coverage has an effective date at the end of the phase-in period (2022 and 2025, depending on the size of the employer) for these occupations to ensure that these employees continue to be eligible for overtime throughout.  The effective date for agricultural employees currently excluded from both the minimum wage and overtime is also at the end of the phase-in period to give these employers more time to adjust to the coverage.

This legislation is supported by over 100 organizations, including United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO, Earthjustice, Economic Policy Institute, Farmworker Justice, LCLAA, NAACP, NELP, SEIU, SPLC, and UnidosUS. For a full list of supporting organizations, click here.

Text of the bill is available HERE.

A one-pager of the bill is available HERE.