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Thursday, July 28, 2016

“We get tired, too”

Recently, I attended a meeting with a local State Senator to encourage him to vote in favor of a bill to allow farm workers to be paid overtime, like most workers are in the state of California. I was honored to sit with seven farm workers and 10 community leaders.

As always, it was an incredible learning experience, and of course one that makes your heart break, but it gives you determination to right the injustices these workers face every day.

One of the farm workers spoke up about the fact that she has to take her kids to the babysitter early in the morning, and when she has to work overtime, she then has to pay the babysitter overtime, so because she receives no additional compensation, she actually earns less money.

Plus, these farm workers have to drive long distances to get to work, as well as deal with the high housing costs that force both parents to work in the fields so they can pay the rent.

They also talked about how much time they spend in the fields and how little time they are able to spend at home. If they were paid overtime, it would at least help make their difficult situation more tolerable, since they would actually be earning more money – money they deserve.

One farm worker also spoke about how some farms have farm workers labor from 9pm until midnight after having worked an 8-hour shift during the day; it breaks up the day, but the farm owners get away with not paying overtime.

And of course, many farm workers also spoke about being paid by how much they pick vs. receiving an hourly wage.

One farm worker said, “We get tired, too, just like everyone else.”

One of the concerns of the State Senator was that paying overtime wages to farm workers might hurt small farmers (mind you, he was primarily referring to dairy farms). But where this argument fails is that it doesn’t make a difference to the farm worker if it is a small or large farm – they are not being compensated for working overtime as legally required in other industries.

In other words, they are at present being overworked without compensation.

Is it that our policymakers are more concerned with those who are profiting? It seems to me that they should be just as concerned for those who are toiling away in the fields helping small and big farmers make a profit.

From my professional perspective? Currently, Food Empowerment Project has two employees: a part-time person and me. We easily need two additional full-time people, as we have that much work to do, along with even more ideas about what we would like to implement as we grow. But we don’t have them. Why? Because we want to be able to pay employees a living wage and give them benefits (and since I am the founder – I understand that I might not receive a living wage, but as the founder, I make sacrifices). So instead of hiring more people and paying them less, we accept that we have to grow more slowly than I would like until our donations increase in order to do even more.

Perhaps farmers who can’t pay their workers living wages should reconsider growing too big until they can do so.

Rocket science? I don’t think so. Problematic priorities? Methinks yes!

I want to add as well that we had invited Assemblymember Bill Dodd to speak at a big event we had in Vallejo, but when we found out that he had voted against an earlier version of this bill, we rescinded our invitation. It is important for us to remind policymakers of our values and that we do want that reflected in our laws.

Thanks to the United Farm Workers for all of their work on this bill and for inviting other groups to show policymakers there are many of us ready to speak in solidarity for the farm workers.