A bill that would have set a national precedent by reducing the number of hours California farm employees must work in order to qualify for overtime pay has been vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Currently, California farm employees are eligible for overtime if they work more than 10 hours in a day or more than 60 hours in a week. However, the limits for other hourly workers in the state are 8 and 40, respectively. Senate Bill 1121 proposed setting those same thresholds for farm employees.
Supported by attorney groups and union organizations, likelihood of the measure's passage seemed to grow as it worked its way through the approval process. It was passed 23-12 in the Senate and 47-28 in the Assembly. Ultimately, however, common sense apparently won out, as Schwarzenegger's veto letter indicated:
"This measure, while well-intended, will not improve the lives of California's agricultural workers and instead will result in additional burdens on California businesses, increased unemployment, and lower wages. In order to remain competitive against other states that do not have such wage requirements, businesses will simply avoid paying overtime. Instead of working 10-hour days, multiple crews will be hired to work shorter shifts, resulting in lower take home pay for all workers. Businesses trying to compete under the new wage rules may become unprofitable and go out of business, resulting in further damage to our already fragile economy."
The veto puts an end to SB-1121 during the current legislative session, but the high visibility it created in non-ag sectors may not quickly fade. Schwarzenegger is not running for reelection, so one of two less ag-savvy candidates will become governor in November, and supporters of the measure may see the change as an opportunity to try again.