Oregon farm owners and workers weigh in on overtime bill

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — During the short session, lawmakers in Salem are considering a bill to provide overtime pay for farm workers. Supporters have said the pay increase is long overdue, while opponents believe it will cost farmers too much.

Representative Paul Holvey, Chair of the House Committee on Business and Labor, said legislators are in a tough spot with this bill and he doesn’t know if they have a perfect solution worked out right now.

Many people called into a public hearing Tuesday night. Farm owners and farm workers shared just how impactful the passage of this bill could be to them.

House Bill 4002 would prohibit employers from requiring agricultural workers to work in excess of maximum allowable hours, unless they’re compensated for overtime. In its current form, the bill phases in the overtime requirements over five years starting in 2023. It also includes a tax credit due to the increased cost to employers.

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During an hours-long committee meeting this week, Representative Andrea Salinas, one of the chief sponsors of the bill, explained that the issue of farm workers and overtime pay goes back several decades.

Representative Salinas sent this statement to KGW on Wednesday night:

“Oregon farmworkers consistently put their safety and health on the line to make sure our families are fed and we have food in stores.

“Despite back-breaking working conditions and inadequate pay, Congress excluded farmworkers from The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a landmark policy that introduced overtime pay, established the minimum wage, and banned child labor. Today 77% of Oregon’s farmworkers are Latino, and we continue to see the disproportionate impact of this exclusion.

“We worked on this bill for the last three years. We have listened to feedback from growers and our Republican colleagues, and significantly changed the bill during negotiations. This is a fair compromise that includes a transition period for overtime and a tax credit to offset some of the additional cost of overtime pay.

“Excluding farmworkers from overtime was wrong in 1938 and it is still wrong today. It’s time we join states like Washington and California and pass farmworker overtime.”

Representative Shelly Boshart Davis expressed her concerns about this draft Tuesday night. She said it could drive many farmers out of business.

“There are many in agriculture who won’t survive a 40-hour overtime pay mandate,” she said. “And many more will be forced to downsize, or significantly change their operation in order to feed their families, or even worse: sell out to a larger corporation that can afford this mandate.”

The conversation about the bill is ongoing and lawmakers will hold a work session on Monday, Feb. 14.

You can read more about the bill on the Oregon State Legislature’s website.

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