Proposal to pay farmworkers overtime overcomes first hurdle in Legislature

The first vote on the plan, which would establish a 40-hour workweek, is partisan, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed 

By: - February 14, 2022 4:45 pm

Grapes are among the 220 specialty crops that Oregon produces along with hay, onions, potatoes and other commodities. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A controversial plan to require overtime pay that would affect the 86,000 farmworkers in Oregon advanced on Tuesday along partisan lines.

All seven Democrats on the House Committee on Business and Labor voted for House Bill 4002, which would require owners to pay farmworkers time and a half for hours over a 40 hour workweek, while the four Republicans on the committee opposed it. 

Another partisan vote – with Democratic support and Republican opposition – moved the bill to the House Revenue Committee where it is likely to be tweaked, according to Rep. Paul Holvey, R-Eugene, committee chair.

Vote in House Committee

on Business and Labor

Republicans:

Rep. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles: no

Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany: no

Rep. Jami Cate of Lebanon: no

Rep. Jessica George of Keizer: no

Democrats:

Rep. Janelle Bynum of East Portland – yes

Rep. Paul Evans of Monmouth: yes 

Rep. Dacia Grayber of Tigard: yes

Rep. Paul Holvey of Eugene: yes

Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego: yes

Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland: Yes

Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie: yes 

The bill is the most divisive this session, with Republican leaders indicating they could walk out and bring the Legislature to a halt to prevent its passage. Last week, a public hearing on the bill stretched into the night with emotional arguments on both sides. Opponents have warned that small family farms would close or be sold to out-of-state companies if farmworker overtime was mandated. They say that is happening in California, which this year adopted the 40-hour a week threshold for farmworkers. But others dispute that. Washington state is phasing in overtime pay for farmworkers, too, with the 40-hour threshold becoming law in 2024.

Five other states also have adopted overtime laws for farmworkers who were excluded from overtime by a 1938 federal law that aimed to protect workers’ rights.

“Eighty years ago or so was the original sin when farm labor was treated differently for all kinds of reasons. I can’t go back and fix that,” Rep. Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said Tuesday, explaining his support of the bill. “At the end of the day, equality under the law matters to me. I do this knowing full well that jobs are going to be lost.”

Republican opponents say that if farmworker overtime becomes law that workers won’t actually get it because farmers will limit their hours.

“I’m really concerned that we’re making a promise here that we may not be able to keep for the workers themselves,” said Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles. “They don’t only want hour 41 they want hour 56, and they’re ok getting it at the $18 an hour that they agreed to doing it to begin with.”

Another Republican on the committee, Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany, had proposed exempting overtime for farmworkers at peak season by allowing them to work 60 hours a week for 22 weeks without overtime pay.

That proposal failed on a partisan vote.

The proposal that’s going to the Revenue Committee provides owners tax credits to soften the impact of paying overtime. Farms with more than 25 employees would get a tax credit equal to 60% of overtime paid in 2023 and 2024, 45% in 2025, 30% in 2026 and 15% in 2027 and 2028. Smaller farms would have more generous benefits: 75% in 2023 and 2024, 60% in 2025, 45% in 2026, 30% in 2027 and 15% in 2028.

The total the state would provide for tax credits under the legislation would be $27 million, but Holvey said that is likely to be raised to $35 million by the Revenue Committee.

 

 

 

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.

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