House Bill 4002 was passed by a special committee on Thursday, now on the floor of the House. Lawmakers and advocates expect a lot of movement next week.
SALEM, Ore – Salem lawmakers set to consider and vote House Bill 4002 next week, otherwise known as the Farmworkers Overtime Bill. The amended legislation was passed by a special committee on Thursday evening.
While the joint commission held a public hearing and subsequent working session, the organizers along with Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, better known as PCUN, an Oregon agricultural workers’ uniongathered outside to support the bill.
Reyna Lopez, president and executive director of the PCUN, helped introduce the idea of this legislation to lawmakers a few years ago.
“It would essentially create a phased introduction over five years of farmworker overtime, eventually reaching 40 hours of overtime pay by year five,” she explained. “It also includes a tax credit that small and medium producers can use to help them through the transition.”
She said it’s a matter of fairness, dignity and respect for Oregon’s 87,000 farm workers.
“We won’t be able to increase the workforce and improve the conditions if we don’t do something to change this culture. We actually have to take steps to improve the conditions on the site so that more people want to come and do some of these jobs and want to spend their lives doing this important agricultural work that also needs a future.”
Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said it righted the wrongs of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which excluded agricultural workers from the pay of overtime.
“I don’t blame anyone today for putting this system in place, but I do take responsibility for changing a system that was rooted in racism.”
Rep. Salinas said while she understands costs are rising for farmers across the board, it’s time to put the worker first.
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“I would like to put the worker first this time and understand all of these other inputs and costs that make or break an operation,” she said.
Jeff Stone, Executive Director of the Oregon Nursery Associationsaid he agrees that employers should pay farm workers fairly, but this amended bill is not the solution.
“We recognize that we have to have something, some sort of standard.”
He is on the side of many farm owners across the state who believe this bill fails to address the unique challenges of the agriculture industry and will negatively impact family farms and even agricultural workers.
“We have to protect the family farm and make sure it succeeds, but we also have to protect the farm worker and make sure they are paid properly,” Stone said. “We don’t think that’s over the top, but unfortunately that’s not what awaits us today.”
House Bill 4002 was passed by the Joint Committee on Agricultural Workers’ Overtime, with committee members voting along the party line; Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition.
In a statement from the Oregon Farm Bureau on Friday, Dave Dillon, Executive Vice President, said:
“We were deeply disappointed to see the Democrats on the joint committee ignore producers’ concerns and move forward with this version of the bill. HB 4002 has the potential to devastate and shut down many family farms. By voting to pass a completely unenforceable 40-hour threshold, lawmakers ensured that farm workers will eventually see reduced wages and hours.
In a statement from the CPUN Floricel Sorian on Thursday, a Salem farm worker wrote:
“I couldn’t miss a day of work for fear of being fired. Even if I had the flu or even a high temperature, we went to work without fail because they practically forced us to. And even without days off, we weren’t earning enough. My husband had to work over 40 hours during the week and additionally on weekends. I ask Oregon State Legislators to vote for HB 4002 because we are hard workers who deserve recognition for our efforts and the respect of our Oregon farmworkers should be paid fairly for their work.