agriculture, Commentary

Why farmworkers don’t get paid for overtime (and what should be done about it)

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), U.S. hourly workers must receive overtime pay for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate of time and one-half their regular rate of pay—that is, unless you are a farmworker. Earlier this year, on FLSA’s 80th anniversary, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Raul Grijalva introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, a bill that would correct this injustice by extending overtime pay to farmworkers.

Since 1938, FLSA has guaranteed the right to overtime pay for most workers, but for the past 80 years farmworkers—who often endure more than 10-12 hour shifts—have been excluded from the protections afforded by this law. A big reason for this, as the Huffington Post explains, is that during the 1930’s southern Democrats formed part of the political coalition enacting the New Deal. These southern Democrats intended to keep farm work, most of it done by African-Americans, as cheap as possible. After eight decades, these exclusions continue to negatively impact African-Americans and Latino farmworkers. Below are a pair of testimonies from farmworkers that explain the need for overtime protections.

Statement of Bety — a farmworker from New York state:

“My name is Bety. I live and work in NY State. I am an agricultural worker. I have been working in agriculture for 8 years. It is hard work and poorly paid. I work more than 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. Or sometimes I work fewer hours depending on the weather. I am currently working on an apple ranch and here the weather during the winter is very cold. A lot of the times we have to work in very cold temperatures pruning apple trees and sometimes the snow reaches us above our knees. We work even when it’s raining or when the temperature is above 90 degrees. I work all year in the same place and I would like to have the same rights as other workers from different industries such as receiving overtime pay, having the right to organize, and decent housing. I would like for Congress to think a little about agricultural workers, we are human beings. We are here for a better future, for ourselves and for this country. If it were not for us, the crops would be lost and the economy would suffer. I would like for them to take us into consideration, we are not invisible and we would like for them to help us by supporting the farmworkers law. Thank you.”

Statement of Maria Del Carmen of Indiana:

“Sometimes when we plant stakes they pay us twenty-five cents (.25) per piece. When we pick tobacco, they pay us by the hour ($11.00). They do not pay us overtime at all. In crops we are never paid overtime. We are paid according to how much we pick or we are paid hourly, but we are never paid overtime. It is a little harder for women because of the heat, the temperature, and because of the men. Thanks to God, we have a trailer with a private bathroom, but a lot of the other workers share a trailer among several families with only one bathroom.”

The bottom line: It is evident how not being paid for overtime negatively affects and discriminates unfairly against farmworkers. The Fairness for Farm Workers Act would remove farmworker exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act; it would phase-in overtime pay over a period of four years. The bill currently has the support of more than 100 social justice and labor advocacy organizations, some of which include the United Farm Workers, NAACP, and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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