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Governor Vetoes California Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

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Sacramento, CAState employment legislation that would have leveled the playing field for farmworkers with regard to California overtime was turfed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on July 28. The sponsor of SB1121, Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter Kern County), the son of farm workers, was outraged.

"The governor had a chance to make history," said Senator Florez. "He had a chance to wipe a 70-year-old shame off the books of California. Instead, he has decided to side with the shameful."

According to a 7/29/10 report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the bill would have drastically altered California labor law overtime and the fortunes of the estimated 700,000 workers who toil on the state's roughly 25 million acres of agricultural land.

Currently, farmworkers make about $10.25 an hour (according to the not-for-profit advocacy group Farmworker Justice) and are only allowed California overtime pay for hours worked over 60 a week, or ten a day. It was hoped that SB1121 would bring farmworkers closer to the benefits that workers in other sectors have enjoyed since 1941.

However, Governor Schwarzenegger claimed that the economy in the state was too fragile and that the bill would be a hardship for farmers. The governor noted in his remarks that federal law exempts farmworkers from overtime altogether. He also noted that the state had increased the minimum wage for farmworkers and had worked to address the issue of heat stress in the fields.

"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," Schwarzenegger wrote.

It should be noted that the farming community vigorously opposed SB1121 and lobbied for its defeat.

SB1121 would have given farmworkers in California the right to receive California labor overtime pay after 40 hours in any given week, or eight hours in a day. If the bill had become law, California would have been the only state in the entire nation to provide overtime to farmworkers.

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