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New law phases in overtime pay for farmworkers

Dan Long/Flickr
Farmworkers picking celery in the Salinas Valley.

A hotly contested law to phase in new overtime pay for farmworkers got lots of buzz when Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law earlier this year. That "phase in" won't begin until 2019 but one provision goes into effect on Sunday.  

Unless you're a lawmaker or a farmworker rights advocate, you probably haven't poured over the language of AB 1066. But if you had, here's one sentence you'd find: "Every person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest in seven and no employer shall cause his/her employees to work more than six days in seven."

But what does it mean to say "no employer shall cause..."? Does it mean employers cannot require employees to work a seventh day? Or that employers can't allow workers to work more than six consecutive days?

Turns out we're not alone in this muddle. A case involving a retailer is now before the state Supreme Court which will decide what "cause" means within the context of labor law.

Philip Martin is a UC Davis Professor of Agricultural Economics. He agrees the 7th day provision of the farmworker overtime law is unclear. But either way, Martin points out it doesn't take away from the larger significance of the law requiring California farmworkers to earn overtime pay the same way other workers do.

"And what AB 1066 is is another step in that same direction of ensuring that the regulations governing the farm labor market are the same as those governing the non-farm labor market," Martin said, adding it's part of a historical arc in California going back to 1975 and the fight for union rights for farmworkers.

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