CO – The Agricultural Workers’ Rights Bill removes exemption of agricultural labor from minimum wage laws, and requires employers to pay their workers overtime and health protections, among other regulations.
While it appears this bill advocates for the agricultural industry, those working in the industry strongly disagree.
Okagawa Farms in Grand Junction, CO says the bill will not largely impact its business practices, as the farm already provides housing, vehicles, and overtime wages for their employees. However they fear that the threat of ‘time and a half’ pay could put themselves and many others out of business,
“If it comes back and its time and a half, we’re not going to be able to bear that increase, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen yet,” says Okagawa Farm’s Frank Nieslanik.
Regulations from Colorado government already require the ag industry to pay for all of its H2A workers’ expenses in the 4 to 5 months they are here.
“While places like Okagawa Farms aren’t pleased that the bill has been signed, sponsors of the bill in Denver are thrilled,” reports KREX5’s Reilly Spence.
Owning a small business herself, one bill sponsor says learning that ag workers did not already have basic labor protections was ’embarrassing,’
“Why do we continue to exempt out human beings from basic labor standards, basic meal and rest periods, basic health and safety issues that you and I have?,” asks Representative Karen McCormick.
Agricultural workers are one of the only employed sectors in Colorado that are exempt from state and local minimum wage laws.
Okagawa Farms says that all workers deserve to be paid fairly, but worry that the reward from this bill passing will not be worth the risk,
“You know the problem is they’re going to have all these rights, which they deserve, but then they’re not going to have jobs to go to,” continues Nieslanik.
Bill sponsors hope as the bill moves forward, they can reach a middle ground with more ag employers so Colorado can continue to lead in the agriculture industry. If you would like to join the conversation, the Department of Labor will release a forum to discuss this bill in the upcoming months.