Oregon passes bill giving farmworkers overtime pay, WU class cheers
On March 3 2022, Oregon passed House Bill 4002, which would allow farmworkers to be paid overtime wages. Oregon has become the eighth state to give overtime pay for farmworkers. Farmworkers and domestic workers were excluded from the federal overtime bill that was created in 1937, and to this day, that has never changed. Overtime pay will slowly be instated over the next five years. Farmworkers will earn time and a half starting in 2023 for agricultural work over 55 hours, then 48 hours in 2025, and eventually 40 in 2027.
Oregon's farmworker union, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), sponsored the bill. PCUN’s website says it is “focused on building a stronger voice for all Latinx working families in Oregon, from farmworkers to young folks, so that we can collectively improve their well-being and increase prosperity for all.” PCUN is Oregon’s first farmworker union, founded in 1985. More information on PCUN can be found here. PCUN gathered support from both farmworkers and farmers to provide testimonies. The Statesman Journal provided some of these testimonies in their article on the bill. One of the workers, Angelica Ortiz, said, “‘They call us essential workers but we have no right to overtime pay.” Ortiz added, “It is unjust that owners do not want to invest in their workers. I urge you to vote to approve overtime for farmworkers.’”
Willamette Professor of Sociology Janet Lorenzen is teaching a new course called Climate Justice Workshop, which explores how social change happens by examining climate justice politics, policies and activist tactics in Oregon and the city of Salem. The course focused on a few bills throughout the semester, but the main bill they focused on was the farmworker overtime bill. Students in the class attended three different events discussing the bill and held their own online informational event, inviting the two main coalition organizers, Liz Marquez Gutierrez and Willamette alumnus Ira Cuello-Martine, to come and give more information. Professor Lorenzen said “the online event was the students' idea to get the Willamette community involved.” The class submitted written testimony to the legislature on two separate occasions and sent emails to their legislators, expressing support of the bill. They also tabled outside Goudy in hopes to get more students involved and provided information on how students can reach their legislatures.
The bill failed to pass in the 2021 session. Senators were worried about the bill putting small farms out of business, as the farmers may encounter financial strain paying the workers overtime wages. According to The Oregonian: “Opponents, however, said the overtime exemption for agriculture makes sense because of farming’s highly seasonal labor needs. They said overtime pay would lead to fewer shifts — and therefore less pay overall — for Oregon’s estimated 174,000 farmworkers and could put small, family-owned farms, which already operate on thin margins, out of business.” The current bill provides a tax credit to farmers over the next six years which will offset the increased costs. This was a big factor in getting senators that previously voted no to switch their vote and getting the bill to pass.
According to a publication by professor of Anthropology at University of Oregon, Lynn Stephen, in collaboration with PCUN “Oregon has more than 100,000 farmworkers, 98 percent of which are Latino, primarily of Mexican origin” Marion county is Oregon's leading agricultural producing county and the Willamette Valley produces 170 different crops alone.
Maggie Malley (‘25) is a student in Professor Lorenzen’s class and provided a comment to The Collegian via email: “It is such a relief that the Farmworker Overtime bill has passed and that Willamette students supported it so readily when introduced. At the tabling event, a simple conversation would lead to the majority of students supporting the cause. A true letdown and racist exclusion of farmworkers has finally been withdrawn.”