Farm group representatives say proposals to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour could lead to job losses throughout agriculture and cause some growers to mechanize or move their operations elsewhere.
SACRAMENTO — Proposals to incrementally raise California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour could lead to job losses throughout agriculture, escalate the push toward mechanization and send some farm operations out of state, industry insiders say.
Growers of labor-intensive crops such as stone fruit, berries and vines would find it nearly impossible to compete in the global marketplace unless they could find a way to harvest with less labor, said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association.
“You’re going to see an accelerated trend toward crops that use less labor, and a trend toward more research of mechanization,” Bedwell told the Capital Press.“Unfortunately, we’re also going to see an accelerated trend of people moving their operations, if they can, outside of California.”
A rapid increase in the minimum wage from the current $10 an hour would cause many farm jobs to be eliminated, agreed Bryan Little, the California Farm Bureau Federation’s director of employment policy.
“It’s just going to make it more and more expensive to employ people,” Little said.Farm groups’ concerns were heightened March 28 when legislators and labor unions announced a tentative deal to take the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. A union-backed initiative to reach the $15 threshold by 2021 has qualified for the November ballot.
One-two punch for growers, the measures are part of a one-two punch as lawmakers are also considering a bill to end exceptions for agriculture from California’s overtime laws. Under the bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego, ag employers would have to observe the same eight-hour work day and 40-hour work week as other employers rather than paying overtime only after 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week under current state law.
In many cases, the proposed laws could end up harming the people they were intended to help. Chuck Herrin, whose Sunrise Farm Labor provides about 2,500 workers each year in the San Joaquin Valley, told The Associated Press that farmers would likely hire 10 percent fewer workers because of the higher cost of business.
“It’s going to be devastating” to fieldworks and their dependent relatives, Herrin told the AP.One Fresno County farmworker is hopeful. Rafael Gutierrez, 53, earned $11 an hour from his last job picking peaches and grapes while his girlfriend makes $14 an hour at Target.“Right now, we’re just making it,” Gutierrez told the AP. “Life is expensive.”The proposed increase would enable him to treat his family to weekend dinners out and a short vacation to Disneyland, he told the wire service.
Many California farmworkers already earn well above the minimum wage, largely because a labor shortage in recent years has given workers leverage in negotiating with growers. For instance, the average wage for a strawberry harvest worker is $12.56 an hour, and it’s higher during the peak months, said Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission.
Fewer jobs but contingency plans made in response to a labor crunch that has cost U.S. agriculture an estimated $3.1 billion a year could end up edging some workers out. Growers of many commodities that have traditionally been picked by hand are attempting to integrate technology.For example, the raisin harvest, which has required as many as 60,000 workers during its six-week peak, is rapidly being mechanized, according to a University of California-Davis report. In 2014, one-quarter of California’s 185,000 acres of raisin-type grapes were harvested by machine, the university’s migration experts reported.
“I think (the higher minimum wage) probably will accelerate that,” the Farm Bureau’s Little said. As another example, he pointed to processing tomatoes, which 20 years ago were hand-picked but are now mostly mechanically harvested.Other growers may move some or all of their operations out of state, industry insiders say.
MORE can be read at
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml