This Labor Day the American worker has reason to be optimistic.
While a few short years ago a $15 minimum wage seemed like a moonshot, today municipalities and states across the country are standing with workers and adopting a minimum wage that will ultimately lift 35 million hard-working American families out of poverty.
Earlier this year, the Obama Administration expanded overtime pay protections to more than 4 million working Americans.
And in California we are on the cusp on progress that builds on what the President has accomplished and paves the way for reforms that have the potential to put millions of working Americans on a pathway to the middle class.
Last week, California lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation that allows farm workers to get paid overtime like all other workers.
Right now – in 2016 – a Jim Crow-era federal law excludes professions like farm workers, maids and domestic workers from overtime. Professions almost exclusively held by people of color. The fact that 78 years later that law is still on the books, prohibiting farm workers from earning a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, is reprehensible.
In 1938, it was passed to discriminate against people of color and all these years later it still discriminates, now predominately against Latino farm workers.
While we haven’t been able to change that law on the federal level due to Congressional inaction, states have the right to expand benefits. After decades of fighting to correct this injustice, we are close to righting an historic wrong.
The bill sponsored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that recently passed would gradually raise overtime pay for farm workers, requiring time-and-a-half for more than 8 hours worked in a day or 40 hours worked in a week. Farm workers who work more than 12 hours a day would get double pay.
It means a hard working mother or father who rises before dawn in the summer heat or on a freezing winter’s day and gets home well after the kids are asleep will finally get the pay they deserve but have been denied.
This isn’t controversial – it’s just fair.
The legislation didn’t pass on its own. Hillary Clinton was the first national leader to advocate for the change, Obama Administration officials, including Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have stood with us, as has Senator Dianne Feinstein and a diverse coalition of labor, immigrant, civil rights and social organizations.
Now the only remaining hurdle we have to clear to level the playing field for farm workers is Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. Ed. note; Governor Brown signed the bill on September 12.
If we can do it in California – the largest agriculture producer in the nation and the state that produces more than half of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts- it would be the latest example of the Golden State leading the nation in workers’ rights. It will yet again be a model for other states to follow.
Today, I’m proud to see our efforts bear fruit. As we celebrate Labor Day, farm workers in California rejoice the passing of this historic legislation. We’re almost there.
Together, we will continue to fight alongside our brothers and sisters as we work to open up a path to the middle class for farm workers and their families.
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