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Jun 14, 2010 11:38 PM by Monica Quintero

Farm worker overtime bill drawing mixed reaction

A proposed bill that addresses overtime for farm workers could have some big impacts on the Central Coast. Currently, farm workers only get paid overtime if they work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week. Senator Dean Florez wants to change that and some agree with him.

The Grower-Shipper Association says there are around 15,000 farm workers a day in the Santa Maria Valley during the peak summer season. Typically, they work between 55 and 60 hours a week.

Richard Quandt, Grower-Shipper Association President, said, "A lot of workers choose to work out in agriculture because they can earn more money." Under current law, a farm worker who works a 60 hour week at minimum wage earns $480. If the new rules are approved, that would jump to $560. David Maxwell, Santa Maria resident, said, "I just think in this day and age, it's almost a basic human right." Quandt said, "That's going to create a burden on the employers."

Quandt predicts most growers would avoid overtime by limiting farm workers to 40 hours a week. State Senator Florez issued a statement to KSBY News, "I think in the end, farm operators will find that paying people overtime is in the best interest of their operation-- as a means to keep productive workers on the job and avoid the cost of hiring additional workers."

Quandt says, "The employers will hire additional workers." He also says the recession has not hit the farming industry as hard as other industries. Because of that, there's an abundance of workers. He says people who typically work in construction, hospitality and even retail are coming to the fields looking for work.

The bill was approved in the State Senate earlier this month and now goes to the Assembly.

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