Farmworker overtime bill passes Oregon House

A farmworker in eastern Oregon (Yadira Lopez/Malheur Enterprise)

The House passed a proposal Tuesday that would require overtime pay for farmworkers.

House Bill 4002 would phase in time-and-a-half pay over five years while paying farmers tax credits over six years to cushion the cost of the new pay.

“If we don’t pass this bill this session, farms could very well be facing a much faster transition to overtime pay after 40 hours without any financial support from the state,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene and a sponsor of the bill. “I believe this transition is coming one way or another. I believe it is inevitable, and I believe it is the right thing to do to try to help farmers mitigate these increased costs with a tax credit. And I believe it is time for us to make sure farmworkers are treated equally.”

The proposal passed with 37 Democrats voting for it and 23 Republicans against. It now goes to the Senate.

The bill would affect the 86,000 farmworkers in Oregon, with the tax credits costing the state $55 million a year.

Republicans are united against the proposal, and at one point hinted they might walk out and shut down the session if it advanced. That does not appear likely, according to Republican sources. 

In an effort to block the bill, Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, called on her House peers to send the issue back to a farmworker committee to discuss an alternative that Republicans support. That plan would trigger overtime at a higher limit than 40 hours, especially during peak season, and instead of tax credits, would create a $50 million state fund to pay farmworkers for overtime. That was defeated with 32 Democrats voting against it and 27 Republicans in support.

Boshart Davis said that the Democratic proposal would be bad for farmworkers because the proposal would prompt farmers to cap their hours to avoid paying overtime.

“Why are we selling a false promise to workers?” she said.

Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, choked up in an emotional speech about how she and her husband raise sheep and that the proposal would hurt her family and community.

“I’m grieving for my family,” Levy said. “Mostly I’m grieving for a way of life” that’s disappearing.

She also said she was “furious that legislators taken mostly from the metropolitan area who have never worked on a farm and refuse to visit my side of the state get to have the voting power to tell my community, my family how they’re allowed to work.” 

Emotions also overflowed among Democrats. Rep. Teresa Alonso León of Woodburn held back tears as she discussed the hard life her parents have had, working in the fields to support their family.

“After 42 years of working as farmworkers, they are still working at minimum wage,” Alonso León said. “They have been overworked and underpaid,” facing “dirt, dust, debris, chemicals, pesticides and most of all back-backing labor.” She said her parents support the bill.

“It’s time we passed farmworker overtime,” Alonso León said.

If the legislation doesn’t pass, the overtime issue likely would shift to the the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, which can independently require 40-hour threshold for overtime for farmworkers. 

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