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Calif. farm workers push overtime pay bill

July 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Led by State Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), dozens of farm workers marched to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office to hand deliver a bill that would pay time-and-a-half for those workers after eight hours in a day, 40 hours in a week. It's currently after 10 hours a day, 60 hours in a week.Farmer workers said they deserve to be treated like California's millions of other hourly employees.

"The work in the field is really, really hard," said Teresa Serrano, a farm worker from Salinas. "It's hard work and less pay."

But agribusiness, a yearly $36 billion industry in California, warns that it may not be what they want.

Farmers sometimes operate on slim margins and they said to keep payroll costs down, they'll cut hours.

In the end, that will mean smaller paychecks for current workers who make about $9 to $10 an hour.

"What we're hearing farmers will do is they will adjust work schedules, they will add crews, so that they will be able to pay straight time, rather than overtime," said Richard Matteis of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

One of the governor's aides accepted the bill and said Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the proposal yet.

Schwarzenegger has sympathized with farm workers before. He signed into law the nation's toughest heat regulations and instituted more control over pesticides.

But then the governor sided with farmers in vetoing a bill that would have made it easier for workers to unionize in the fields, so he could go either way on the issue at hand.

To boost their cause on pay equity and even immigration reform, United Farm Workers earlier this year invited Americans to spend a day as a farm worker.

While 8,000 nationwide inquired, only 3 actually picked crops.

"Once people learned about how difficult it is and how hard it is and how low the wages are and everything else, people did not continue to pursue it," said Arturo Rodriguez of the United Farm Workers.

The governor has 12 days to take action on the overtime bill. The group prayed for him to sign it.

"Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me," the prayer went.


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