Proposal to pay farmworkers overtime clears first hurdle in Oregon Legislature

Close to 100 people gathered outside the Oregon State Capitol on Monday, Feb. 14 for a “Day Without Immigrants” protest. The gathering in front of the Capitol building took place hours before the farmworker overtime bill was passed through committee.

A controversial plan to require overtime pay that would affect the 86,000 farmworkers in Oregon advanced on Tuesday along partisan lines.

All seven Democrats on the House Committee on Business and Labor voted for House Bill 4002, which would require owners to pay farmworkers time and a half for hours over a 40 hour workweek, while the four Republicans on the committee opposed it. 

Another partisan vote – with Democratic support and Republican opposition – moved the bill to the House Revenue Committee where it is likely to be tweaked, according to Rep. Paul Holvey, R-Eugene, committee chair.

The bill is the most divisive this session, with Republican leaders indicating they could walk out and bring the Legislature to a halt to prevent its passage. Last week, a public hearing on the bill stretched into the night with emotional arguments on both sides. 

Opponents have warned that small family farms would close or be sold to out-of-state companies if farmworker overtime was mandated. They say that is happening in California, which this year adopted the 40-hour a week threshold for farmworkers. 

But others dispute that. Washington state is phasing in overtime pay for farmworkers, too, with the 40-hour threshold becoming law in 2024. Five other states also have adopted overtime laws for farmworkers who were excluded from overtime by a 1938 federal law that aimed to protect workers’ rights.

“Eighty years ago or so was the original sin when farm labor was treated differently for all kinds of reasons. I can’t go back and fix that,” Rep. Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said Tuesday, explaining his support of the bill. “At the end of the day, equality under the law matters to me. I do this knowing full well that jobs are going to be lost.”

Republican opponents say that if farmworker overtime becomes law that workers won’t actually get it because farmers will limit their hours.

“I’m really concerned that we’re making a promise here that we may not be able to keep for the workers themselves,” said Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles. “They don’t only want hour 41 they want hour 56, and they’re ok getting it at the $18 an hour that they agreed to doing it to begin with.”

Another Republican on the committee, Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany, had proposed exempting overtime for farmworkers at peak season by allowing them to work 60 hours a week for 22 weeks without overtime pay.

That proposal failed on a partisan vote.

The proposal that’s going to the Revenue Committee provides owners tax credits to soften the impact of paying overtime. Farms with more than 25 employees would get a tax credit equal to 60% of overtime paid in 2023 and 2024, 45% in 2025, 30% in 2026 and 15% in 2027 and 2028. Smaller farms would have more generous benefits: 75% in 2023 and 2024, 60% in 2025, 45% in 2026, 30% in 2027 and 15% in 2028.

The total the state would provide for tax credits under the legislation would be $27 million, but Holvey said that is likely to be raised to $35 million by the Revenue Committee.

 Vote in House Committee on Business and Labor:

YES (all Democrats): Rep. Janelle Bynum of Portland, Rep. Paul Evans of Monmouth, Rep. Dacia Grayber of Tigard, Rep. Paul Holvey of Eugene, Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland, Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie.

NO (all Republicans): Rep. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany, Rep. Jami Cate of Lebanon, Rep. Jessica George of Keizer.

State Senator Michael Dembrow speaks to protesters on Feb. 14 outside the Capitol. The state senator spoke in favor of House Bill 4002, which would extend overtime pay to farmworkers.

Protesters stand outside the Capitol on Monday’s “Day Without Immigrants” to support increased rights for both farmworkers and immigrants.