California’s Agricultural Overtime Rate Reaches Small Farms

Starting January 1, 2023, California’s agricultural overtime rule came into effect for farms with 25 or fewer employees. As of the new year, these farms must pay hourly rates of 1.5 times the regular wage for all hours worked over 50 in the week. Reactions to the new overtime rule are mixed. The Sacramento Bee reports that farmers are frustrated by having their hours reduced to no more than 50.

This is another chapter in the long and complicated story that is overtime pay for agricultural workers. Although the justice-driven reasons for extending overtime pay to agricultural workers are clear, the near-term impact on workers themselves isn’t always seen as positive by workers themselves. Many agricultural workers need to work over 50 hours in a week to meet their expenses. Farm owners and managers, however, won’t allow overtime hours if they have to pay wages of time and a half for them. Farmers then struggle with the need to pick up a second job or to reduce their expenses in order to get by.

Overtime advocates say these are the necessary growing pains of living into a more just world while pointing out that the lack of a living wage and affordable housing is the real culprit. Others say that using state law to limit the choices of willing workers is unfair.

The struggle won’t quickly go away. This is part of a phase-in that will next require overtime at over 40 hours in the week for all agricultural workers starting January 1, 2025. We’ll track the conversation for you as California (and other states) move towards overtime wage rates for agricultural workers.