California’s farmers have just been done in by their legislators and their governor in a blatant and pathetic use of the bully pulpit
The occurrence took place in September when the legislature passed and the governor signed into law Assembly Bill 1066. It demands that agricultural workers receive overtime pay after working eight hours, when it has been traditional for generations that the time-and-a-half rate kicked in only after they worked 10 hours.
Basing their arguments on the shallowest of reasoning, lawmakers convinced each other that the requirement would increase pay for farm workers, a group they seem to regard as underprivileged. If they weren’t underprivileged before the law passed, many of them probably will be now.
For generations, farm workers have preferred to take home additional income by working longer hours, “making hay while the sun shines” you might say. Farmers were delighted to pay them more as they completed the harvest and other chores.
Now, instead, separate crews will be hired after the first crew completes its eight-hour day. The “day crew” will spend its eight hours filling boxes with fruit, for example. But a new crew will stack it on trucks and haul it out of the fields. Other solutions will include a much greater emphasis on mechanical handling.
It is not only harvest and field crews that will be adversely affected by the unfortunate change. Truck drivers, equipment operators, even packinghouse crews will be affected, all with lower earning potential as 10-hour work days are shortened to eight hours.
The unfortunate decision by legislators has the potential of creating absolute havoc, but farmers and farm companies are expected to juggle work schedules sufficiently to maintain a harvest-time flow. Workers may not be as flexible, although many are expected to be offered “second” jobs on a second shift doing the same job they did before.
The state’s lawmakers were convinced that their votes for eight-hour days would be perceived as support for farm workers. Supposedly this perception makes them appear as heroes in their own districts among their own constituents.
And that translates to re-electability, more campaigns, some perhaps for higher offices, and more campaign contributions. For politicians thirsting for prestige and power it amounts to a reliable and perpetual well of financial support.
But more importantly it translates to abandonment of the elected’s first responsibility to the citizens of the state, to his or her constituency, and to the state’s welfare. The level of irresponsibility approaches criminal immorality.
Hand wringing about political immorality has been part of America’s history, the bosses, the graft, the trickery. But somehow the attention of it has not centered on California – until now.
The Golden State’s political reputation is being tarnished with issues about farm workers at the center of the controversy, a group which is probably the least politically involved of the state’s preponderance of ethnic and minority sub groups.
The farm community sees the recent “overtime vote” as a serious breach of representative government, a huge economic mistake, and an abandonment of the economic and societal contributions of California agriculture and its people.
It sees those who engineered and perpetrated the mechanics of the vote as unresponsive and irresponsible manipulators, not the sensitive and compassionate spokesmen they might be.
Farmers wonder if the majority of their representatives in the legislature and beyond can conduct the state’s business in a manner that is responsible and fair for all elements, or whether they can operate only as a gang of self-centered bullies.
(Note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the guest author, and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by Western Farm Press).