Farmers urge compromise over overtime

By Oregon Farm Bureau,

SALEM, ORE., 09 FEB. 2022 — Legislators heard from stakeholders last night about why a proposed bill setting a 40-hour overtime threshold for agriculture workers is not a workable compromise and would ultimately harm both family farmers and farmworkers.

Oregonians provided more than three hours of testimony on HB 4002, including many family farmers who emphasized their desire to find a workable legislative solution on overtime that will balance opportunities for workers while mitigating reduction in wages and benefits for farmworkers.

State Representative Shelly Boshart Davis (R-Albany) kicked off the committee by laying out the consequences of a 40-hour overtime threshold.

“HB 4002 risks entire sectors of Oregon’s agricultural economy by pricing them out of the labor market because their operations cannot adapt to a 40-hour threshold,” Boshart Davis said. “This means everyone who depends on farms for income will suffer and have less money in their pockets. And it is exactly why we should craft an Oregon solution that addresses the uniqueness of Oregon agriculture.”

Family farmers and small business owners from across the state testified on the impacts that the bill, as currently written, will have on their operations and their ability to stay in business and continue to provide their workers the hours they are seeking. They also emphasized the need to come to a legislative compromise during the 2022 legislative session.

“Agriculture is seasonal, and our work schedules are dictated by weather conditions and the tight time frames we work in. As a result, farmworkers rely on working extra hours during these peak seasons to offset when there is not as much work or when the weather makes it impossible to work. Allowing a permanent peak season accommodation gives workers a chance to get the extra wages they need during busy times and gives family farms a chance at survival,” said Lesley Tamura, a 4th generation pear grower from Hood River County.

Most farmers cannot afford a year-round 40-hour overtime threshold that fails to consider the seasonality of crops or the unique nature of providing round-the-clock care for livestock. Unable to absorb or recoup the cost of overtime wages, farm employers will be forced to adjust work schedules, mechanize or switch to less labor-intensive crops to control labor costs.

“The problem for my dairy farm and many others is that livestock operations don’t always follow neat, predictable cycles. Recognizing the unique nature of caring for livestock to include these considerations would go a long way to making this proposal workable for farms like mine,” said Bobbi Harrold Frost from Harrold’s Dairy in Creswell.

“Tonight’s hearing demonstrated just how challenging this proposal is for many of our family farmers and small growers. We saw Oregonians from across the state, and diverse backgrounds urge lawmakers to find a compromise that will protect everyone who relies on agriculture for income,” said Dave Dillon, Executive Vice President of the Oregon Farm Bureau.

“We recognize and respect lawmakers’ desire to reexamine Oregon’s agriculture overtime law,” said Jeff Stone, Executive Director of Oregon Association of Nurseries. “Unfortunately, HB 4002 as introduced would put countless family farms out of business and accelerate the industry’s long-term trend toward corporate farms replacing locally-owned operations. We remain committed to working with lawmakers and farmworker advocates to support a legislative solution that acknowledges the perspectives of both employers and employees. Still, this bill as introduced is a one-sided proposal that would decimate our state’s ag industry.”

Boshart Davis introduced a -1 amendment to the bill modeled after Colorado’s overtime law and would allow for a reasonable overtime threshold, allowance for peak weeks, and an exemption for livestock operations. The coalition urges the legislature to pursue a similarly structured compromise that acknowledges the unique needs of harvest and livestock. The coalition has also outlined several principles for the legislature to consider as they work toward a compromise.

Contact Anne Marie Moss ([email protected]) and Curt Kipp ([email protected]) for more information.

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