Tens of thousands of Oregon farmworkers have moved closer to overtime pay.
A legislative committee voted along party lines Thursday night to pass House Bill 4002, one of the most controversial proposals of the 2022 legislature, with Republicans indicating they could ignore it. The bill would ensure that about 86,000 Oregon farmworkers would be paid time-and-a-half after 40 hours a week, while providing farmers with tax credits over six years to cover new costs. The Joint Farmworker Overtime Committee’s six Democrats supported the proposal while the committee’s four Republicans opposed it, including three who said they were an “absolute no.”
The bill is put to a vote in the House.
The decision came after nearly three hours of testimony at a public hearing which was followed by two more meetings of the same committee, extending past 9:30 p.m.
Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, asked that the meeting be postponed, but Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, who co-chaired the meeting, said it was clear there would be no meeting. agreement between Democrats who want the 40-hour threshold and Republicans who don’t.
“We’ve been negotiating this for a while,” Holvey said. “The proposals on the other side would never reach 40.”
He said it was likely the issue would emerge in future legislative sessions and changes would be made depending on how an overtime requirement affected farms and agricultural workers.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that it will happen,” Holvey said. “We all want the best for people.”
During the public hearing, legislators heard candid testimonials from farmers, farm workers, union representatives, advocates, trade groups, educators and health professionals. As the first public hearing on the February 8 bill, opinions were sharply divided, with speakers repeating many of the same arguments.
Many farmers — and the powerful Oregon Farm Bureau — said the proposal would bankrupt family farms or force them to sell to corporations.
“Our farms are at breaking point,” said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of government affairs for the Farm Bureau. “It will push them over the edge and into the hands of out-of-state companies.”
Our farms are at breaking point. This will push them over the edge and into the hands of out-of-state companies.
– Mary Anne Cooper, Vice President of Government Affairs, Oregon Farm Bureau
Opponents have argued that agriculture should not be confused with other industries due to the seasonal nature of the work, the effect of wild weather swings that impact earnings, and the long hours required to the harvest.
Proponents, including a few farmers as well as farm workers and their advocates, rejected this argument. They said the proposal was long overdue and that giving agricultural workers overtime after 40 hours was fair. They have been barred from overtime since the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
“That exclusion was a matter of race,” said Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego. “Excluding agricultural work from overtime pay was a mistake in 1938, and it is still a mistake today.”
She said farm work was back and the long hours were causing physical and mental stress, giving farmworkers much shorter lives than other Americans.
A 1998 study in California indicated that the average lifespan of a farmhand was 49 years. That compares to 77 for the average American, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dozens of people testified
Several Spanish-speaking farm workers were among the dozens who testified Thursday. Hundreds more have filed written testimonies. Among them, some participated in the talks last year. Those negotiations broke down in December, when a farmworker advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the state Bureau of Labor and Industries on behalf of two farmworkers who said they owed overtime in under the Oregon Constitution. This trial is ongoing.
Since the start of the session, the two parties have grown closer.
Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, filed a new proposal Thursday requiring overtime pay for farmworkers after 48 hours a week. The overtime threshold would have been extended to 55 hours for 15 weeks of the year. The proposal would have required the state to create a $50 million fund to pay for overtime not paid by the employer.
“This bill would bring some certainty to our farmers,” said Bonham, the Republican Representative for the Dalles. “It’s a trade-off that will keep people employed and allow for better pay.”
He said the Republican plan would put more money in the hands of farmworkers.
He was rejected along party lines.
Excluding agricultural work from overtime pay was a mistake in 1938, and it is still a mistake today.
– Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego
The proposal that was adopted would set a 40-hour threshold for overtime pay to be spread over five years. It includes provisions to cushion the financial blow to employers. A $10 million fund set up by September 30 would be used to pay employers, and they would also get tax credits that would be phased out over six years. The proposal includes four levels of credits.
Employers, with the exception of dairies with more than 50 full-time employees, could benefit from a tax credit equal to 60% of overtime hours paid in 2023 and 2024, 45% in 2025, 30% in 2026 and 15% in 2027 and 2028.
Employers who employ between 26 and 50 full-time employees or dairy farms with more than 25 employees would also benefit from overtime pay tax credits: 75% in 2023, 60% in 2024 and 2025, 50% in 2026, 2027 and 2028.
Farms, excluding dairies, with fewer than 25 full-time employees would benefit from a tax credit of 90% in 2023, 80% in 2024 and 2025 and 60% from 2026 to 2028.
The legislation would give dairies with 25 or fewer part-time employees a full overtime tax credit for six years.
The bill estimates that the tax credits would cost taxpayers about $55 million a year.
The proposal would also require the Department of Jobs to report to the Legislative Assembly in 2026 on the impact of the overtime requirement.
If the proposal passes this session, opponents would have little recourse to fight it. But if not approved, the overtime issue could be settled by the pending lawsuit or by the Bureau of Labor and Industries, an option the Farm Bureau prefers.
“Let BOLI and the courts determine what is in Oregon’s interest,” said Farm Bureau lobbyist Cooper. She said the office would fight a 40-hour overtime rule by BOLI in court.
Mano a Mano, a Salem farmworker advocacy group, argues in its lawsuit against the state labor office that not paying farmworkers overtime after 40 hours is discriminatory.
Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle separately decided to enforce the overtime requirement through executive action, and supporters of the legislation noted that her decision to do so would not come with work credits. tax.