Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938. Among other things, the law insures that everyone gets paid a minimum wage and that workers get paid for all their hours. The FLSA is also the source of our overtime laws that require workers get paid at time and a half rates for hours worked in excess of 40 hours. Unfortunately, special interest groups made sure that the law has plenty of exceptions. The workers most in need of overtime laws are often those who find themselves exempted.
Drive through any rural area in the summer and you are likely to see men and women toiling in the fields. Slavery was abolished by the 14th Amendment but conditions have not improved for many farm workers. According to the San Diego Union – Tribune, farm workers in Mendota, California (the “Cantaloupe Capital of the World”) typically work 50 to 70 hours per week, especially during the peak of the hot summer when the cantaloupes are harvested.
Those workers are not paid overtime.
An guest editorial from a Colorado anthropology professor argues that the lack of mandatory overtime creates an incentive to overwork farm workers. A practice that sometimes results in death.
Professor Sarah Horton tells the story of Agustin Gudino, a grape picker who died while working a 10 hour shift in the fields. The temperature was 108 degrees. A pepper picker, Salud Zamudio Rodríguez, apparently died just 5 minutes before the end of shift in 105 degree heat, although it isn’t clear that he was working overtime.
These deaths are certainly tragic and probably could have been prevented. Will removing many of the exemptions from our federal overtime laws save lives, however? We are not convinced it will. That said, Congress needs to eliminate the incentives that big business use to exploit workers. And regulators need to better enforce the existing workplace safety laws.
I spent many years on a farm. Ask any farmer and they will tell you its hard work. The lives of migrant and itinerant workers are even worse. Low pay, long hours and often poor conditions.
Amending the FLSA to eliminate the agricultural overtime exemptions is the right thing to do, however, even if it doesn’t save lives. Existing federal safety laws should insure that farm workers have proper rest, safety equipment and water… especially when working in extreme temperatures. California has its own state law specifically designed to protect farm workers from excessive heat.
In our opinion, we need to mandate overtime for those working long hours and make sure that no one is forced to work in high heat without shelter, water and frequent breaks.
Many people still believe that our food is raised on small family farms. Some of it still is but family farms are quickly vanishing. Today, agribusiness has replaced the family farm. These are typically huge companies and often with poor safety records.
As I write this post, we are investigating a multistate egg business, one that mistreats workers and doesn’t pay them proper wages. As a former patrol deputy, I once visited the “housing area” of an egg farm. That such squalor existed in the United States in the 21st century was shocking. Unfortunately, things have not improved.
Very small farms are exempt from both minimum wage and overtime laws. Most other farmworkers, however, are covered only for minimum wage. As currently drafted, the Fair Labor Standards Act defines agriculture as including:
“farming in all its branches and among other things includes the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodities (including commodities defined as agricultural commodities in section 1141j(g) of U.S.C. Title 12), the raising of livestock, bees, furbearing animals, or poultry, and any practices (including any forestry or lumbering operations) performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations, including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market.”
If you are a farmworker as defined above, Congress says you are not entitled to overtime. It’s time for that to change. Next time you drive down a country road and see pickers toiling in the sun, realize they are probably working 50+ hours and not getting much more than minimum wage.
Fair Labor Standards Act and Overtime Laws
The federal government and many states require workers who put in more than 40 hours per week be paid at time and one half for all hours in excess of 40 hours. There are exceptions for certain administrative, professional and management personnel. Some industries like agriculture and occupations such as firefighters are exempt, however.
Remedies for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act including attorney’s fees and double lost wages. The law also requires the employer to keep accurate records of time worked.
MahanyLaw – National Overtime Lawyer
If you believe that you are the victim of wage theft or unpaid overtime, give us a call. Let an experienced overtime lawyer determine if you have a case. We can help in many different states. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 258-2375. You can also visit our overtime information page.
All inquiries are protected by the attorney -client privilege and kept confidential. There is never a fee for consultations and we do not get paid unless we recover money for you.
MahanyLaw – America’s Wage Theft and Overtime Lawyers