At the end of June, Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis, signed into law Senate Bill 87, knows as the Farmworker Bill of Rights. In a country where around 83% of farmworkers are Latino, 50% are undocumented and 10% are immigrants working with H-2A temporary visas, this Bill of Rights is not just about treating farmworkers better, but about addressing structural racism in the American food system.
What makes this law so historic is that it’s not just about minimum wage or overtime. This law delves into multiple aspects of worker well-being by requiring that farm workers:
- Have a protected right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining
- Be paid at least the Colorado minimum wage (currently $12.32 per hour)
- Receive overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week or 12 hours in one day
- Be allowed meal breaks and rest periods throughout each work period, consistent with protections for other non-agricultural employees
- Have regular access and transportation to key service providers (e.g. going to the bank, doctor appointments, the grocery store, the pharmacy)
- Be allowed to receive visitors at employer-provided housing without interference from other persons (e.g. doctors, lawyers, social workers, clergy)
- Have protections from heat-related stress and injury
- Be prohibited from using short-handled hoes when weeding or thinning in stooped, kneeling or squatting positions
- Receive extra protection during a public health emergency (think COVID – the need for social distancing, masks and sanitation).
In addition, the new law creates an “agricultural work advisory committee” to study and analyze wages and working conditions in the agricultural industry. It also creates a reporting system and a process for enforcing the laws, including non-retaliation provisions for employees who make complaints.
The Farmworker Bill of Rights grew out of reports from farmworkers of being unable to leave the farm to access medical care and also refraining from drinking water because they were not allowed to stop work for bathroom breaks. However, the bill experienced serious pushback from agricultural interests including the Colorado Farm Bureau. In the end, Colorado legislators decided that the trade-offs between increasing protections and increasing costs were worth it.