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Bernstein writes: "There was jubilation in farmworker country on Monday, as California governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, ending the 78 years of exclusion from overtime for farmworkers. United Farm Workers president Arturo S. Rodriguez was celebrating the victory with farmworkers from one end of the state to the other."

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, backed by members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, addresses the crowd on the City Hall steps on the anniversary of Cesar Chavez' birthday. (photo: Hannah Albarazi/Bay City New)
UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, backed by members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, addresses the crowd on the City Hall steps on the anniversary of Cesar Chavez' birthday. (photo: Hannah Albarazi/Bay City New)

After 78 Years of Struggle, California Farmworkers Win the Right to Overtime Pay: An Interview With UFW President Arturo Rodriguez

By Dennis J Bernstein, Reader Supported News

15 September 16


here was jubilation in farmworker country on Monday, as California governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, ending the 78 years of exclusion from overtime for farmworkers. United Farm Workers president Arturo S. Rodriguez was celebrating the victory with farmworkers from one end of the state to the other. ‎

“For 78 years, a Jim Crow-era law discriminated against farmworkers by denying us the same overtime rights that other workers benefit from,” Rodriguez stated, directly following the signing. “Here in the U.S. today, Governor Brown corrected a historic wrong and set an example for other states to follow.”

I spoke with President Rodriguez directly following the passage of the landmark legislation. We spoke about the significance of the legislation, as well as the nuts and bolts of its implementation.

Dennis Bernstein: Welcome, President Rodriguez. It is very good to speak with you again. The governor of California finally signed the bill for extended overtime. Can you believe it? Farm workers finally getting extended overtime.

Arturo Rodriguez: Well, thank you very much for having us here today. We’re very appreciative.

DB: It’s good to have you with us. Tell us about the good news. It’s few and far between days that we get to celebrate.

Rodriguez: You know what, this is an exciting day for farmworkers. It’s historic. For the first time in the history of the United States, farmworkers are going to be treated just like any other worker, having the right to be paid overtime after 8 hours of work. We’re so thankful to the legislators, especially our author, Lorena Gonzalez, and all those other legislators who stood up to be counted in support of doing the right thing for farmworkers, and of course to Governor Jerry Brown, for his actions. And to both leaders of the House and the Senate: President Kevin de Leon, Senate president, and the Assembly speaker, Anthony Rendon. They worked hard to make this come about, and we’re thankful to all of them.

DB: All right, explain the details. We know that this is implemented over over a four year period. Explain what is new and why it’s significant, in specific terms.

Rodriguez: Well, farmworkers, first of all, have always been excluded from overtime pay. The only state where we had some provision for overtime pay was here in California. But they had to work 10 hours a day, and a 60-hour week, before they could achieve any overtime pay. Now it will be implemented, begin to be implemented, in 2019. There will be a phase-in period for the next four years. Eventually, after eight hours they will get access to overtime pay for their work.

And for smaller employers, 25 and under, they’ll have an additional three years to determine how they can implement this effectively within their particular companies and operations. We tried to take into account what we heard as the needs of the employers. We heard from many legislators that this was important to them, so this legislation would not become an economic burden to employers. Phased in, in a way that they can actually deal with the issue and prepare for it. And ensure that they made whatever necessary adjustments were needed, to be able to accommodate this legislation.

DB: But Arturo, we have to make sure … it’s important not only to pass such legislation, but how will it be enforced? What are the structures that have been built into the law so that this really happens?

Rodriguez: I don’t know all the details of the law in terms of the enforcement mechanisms, but we always know, and we’ve learned throughout our history, that we have to be vigilant. We have to go straight to the workers, and we have to ask them, to make sure that they are the ones that are ... enforcing whatever laws take place, whether it’s a law around heat, whether it’s a law governing how much water they get, or other types of protections like bathrooms in the fields, and drinking water and things of that nature.

We’re also prepared to do the same thing here, and once the law goes actually into effect we’ll be going out there and visiting all the farms throughout the state, and advising workers of changes that are relevant. We’ll utilize the appropriate medias as well, to make sure that people understand what their rights are. In the event that the employer is violating their rights, [we’ll let them know] how to get in contact with us so that we can make sure that proper action is taken with that particular company, to ensure the workers get the overtime pay they are entitled to.

DB: Do you think this will have reverberations across the country? Will other farmworkers, other workers across the country be ... Will this be an important precedent?

Rodriguez: It will be an extremely important precedent for them. I think it’s going to give farmworkers throughout the nation a sense of hope. If farmworkers here in California can unite, can come together, can be passionate about something and make the sacrifices, and make these types of changes, it’s going to encourage them to want to do the same thing within their respective states, to make these kinds of changes.

Yesterday, I was in Texas, meeting with farmworkers there and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Farm Workers’ activities in the state of Texas, which began back in June of 1966 with a heroic group of farmworkers who walked out on strike, in Rio Grande City in the melon fields there, and marched from Rio Grande City to Sacramento. I’m sorry, I mean to Austin, Texas, the capital of the state of Texas. People there were all excited about what we’re doing here in California, and hoping that we were able to get the governor’s signature, because that gives them an opportunity to look toward doing the same thing within their state.

DB: Well, I have to tell you that here at Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio, Miguel Gavilan Molina and I are really honored that we played just this little part in giving a platform and a microphone to the movement. Again, we’re honored, and wow, congratulations!

Rodriguez: Well, likewise. We’re always very, very thankful for all the good work that ya’ll do. Your listenership has always been extremely supportive of the work of the United Farm Workers, and we’re humbled to be able to receive that support year after year after year. And now we’re looking toward not only enforcing this legislation but going to farmworkers and asking them, “What other needs do you have?” and “What’s important to you?” and “What’s important to consumers about their food supply?”

DB: Yeah, how about a minimum wage?

Rodriguez: Yeah, there you go.

DB: What’s the wage for farmworkers?

Rodriguez: Farmworkers are paid now the same minimum wage as any other worker.

DB: Oh right, oh my God.

Rodriguez: So they will also benefit from the new minimum wage laws that were passed earlier this year. And we’ll combine all of these good things that farmworkers are going to be entitled to, and as time goes on, people are going to realize that farmworkers are now being treated as professionals, like every other worker here in the state. And that’s extremely important.

DB: Well, Hispanic Heritage Day is today. Independence on Friday. This is good timing, huh?

Rodriguez: It’s excellent timing. It really does bring light to the National Hispanic Heritage Month, which we’re going to start celebrating later on this week, and to all the hard work that Latinos do within our nation. The huge contributions that they make every single day, not only in agriculture but the hospitality industry, and certainly the ones that are out there doing the construction work, and doing the yard work, and working in our homes, being nannies and taking care of the children, and cleaning the houses, and all those types of things.

DB: By the way, we only have 15 seconds – it was a double victory, they also passed the Domestic Worker’s bill.

Rodriguez: That’s right.

DB: It’s a good day.

Rodriguez: Good times.

Dennis J Bernstein is the executive producer of Flashpoints, syndicated on Pacifica Radio, and is the recipient of a 2015 Pillar Award for his work as a journalist whistleblower. He is most recently the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+14 # wrknight 2016-09-15 17:10
About f'k'g time!
+7 # Robbee 2016-09-15 18:25
+6 # Jaax88 2016-09-15 20:57
+2 # Navigatio di Brendani 2016-09-16 08:43
Fantastic news, but long, long overdue. Man's inhumanity to man is depressingly common.

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