Colorado Producers Reject OT Compensation Proposal


LASALLE, Colorado – In the shadow of the Rocky Mountains on the Colorado plains, the bounty of the season extends as far as the eye can see.

“County Weld was either the largest or one of the largest potato-producing regions in the country in the early 1900s,” said Amber Strohauer, whose family grows potatoes and other produce. in Colorado for four generations.

Migrant workers have been coming here for decades for the seasonal jobs provided by the agricultural industry.

“I am from Ukraine,” said Mytro Goncharuk. “I have worked here for Strohauer Farms for five years.

Goncharuk works well over 40 hours a week this time of year and accumulates that extra income to take home after harvest.

“I am a local farm truck driver and also manage truck drivers,” Goncharuk said. “Personally, my motivation is the experience, which I can apply in Ukraine later, and, of course, the money.”

Just up the street at Hungenberg Produce, workers like Perla Barrera also work long hours.

“I like it,” Barrera said. “I think this is my second home. I have 15 years of work here.

“They need to have the opportunity to make money over those few months and go back and do whatever they have to do,” said Eliseo Mendez Jr., who works at Hungenberg Produce for 30 years. “If you work 40 hours, it’s just not, it’s not worth it. “

The Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association says Senate Bill 87 threatens that income for migrant workers. The CFVGA says the bill would require producers to pay overtime more than 40 hours per week, which agriculture has traditionally been exempt from paying.

“It’s already a big expense,” Strohauer said. “Labor costs represent 35 to 40% of our outputs. If you tell that to people in other industries, their jaws hit the ground.

Strohauer says new rules could put some family farms out of business. It could also cause experienced workers to move elsewhere.

She says if the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment doesn’t relax those rules, she’ll have no choice but to reduce the work hours to 40 per week.

“They leave their families, they leave their country for months,” Strohauer said. “For them, it’s not worth coming here and being limited in their hours. They want to work as much as possible.

Mendez agrees.

“They come here to try to provide for their families in a short time,” Mendez said. “There is so much more they can do here than where they are from.

He has worked at Hungenberg Produce for three decades.

“I don’t see myself doing anything else or working anywhere else,” Mendez said. “These guys are awesome. They take care of their people.

Goncharuk says reducing his hours would be a break for him.

“I can turn my attention to another state or another country,” Goncharuk said. “It’s not about hanging out. It’s more about staying busy. That makes me happy. “

Goncharuk is an H-2A worker, a program that allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. for temporary farm jobs.

Strohauer says paying farm workers overtime is just not possible when they are already earning well above the minimum wage and being paid up to 70-80 hours per week, as is the case. cases during harvest.

“We are not the price setters, we are the price takers in our industry,” Strhauer said. “We can’t tell retailers that we want more money for our product because we now have to pay our workers overtime. It doesn’t work that way in ag. Retail has the ability to go out and locate products from other states and countries. They dictate what we get paid, and it really depends on the price. If we can’t stay competitive, we can’t stay in business.

However, Bruce Goldstein, the president of the nonprofit Farmworker Justice, disagrees.

“There is no evidence that extending labor rights to agricultural workers would bankrupt farms. Before overtime was paid for other workers, there were all kinds of claims that companies couldn’t work and the workers wouldn’t even appreciate it, ”Goldstein said. . “It has been proven wrong. “

Denver7 contacted the four sponsors of the bill for comment on Tuesday. Only one responded.

State Representative Yadira Caraveo, a Democrat from Thornton, made the following statement:

“The SB87 is the result of months of hard work of participation and compromise on the part of all parties involved. The law, many parts of which have been in force since Governor Polis signed it on June 25, offers long-awaited protections to agricultural workers and gives them the dignity they deserve as the backbone of our system. food production. The process of drafting the rules at the CDLE regarding certain working conditions, pay and overtime must bear in mind the exploitation these essential workers face and ensure that they are properly paid and benefit from the benefits. protections we provide to workers in other industries. I know it is possible to protect the rights of agricultural workers without harming our farmers, and I hope the final rules will properly reflect that. “

Farm workers and the people they work for have argued for centuries over what constitutes fair pay. President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act in the 1930s.

This is why the United States no longer has child labor. This is also why we have a minimum wage and overtime. Agricultural workers were excluded from both. According to Don Mayer, a professor at the University of Denver in the Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies, the reason for excluding farm workers was to gain support from Southern Democrats.

“Basically, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 would not have been passed without the support of the Democrats in the south. pool, and that dates back to slavery, unfortunately, ”Mayer said.

People like Cesar Chavez opposed the exception. Through strikes and picketing, he and his colleagues obtained higher wages for agricultural workers.

In 2016, California became the first state in the country to grant one and a half terms to agricultural workers. A handful of other states have since followed suit.

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