Colorado’s oldest Latino charitable nonprofit attacked proposals to deny agricultural workers legal protection under state minimum wage and overtime laws. The Colorado State Department of Labor and Employment proposes to exclude farmworkers from newly expanded overtime and minimum pay standards going into effect next year.
“Farmworkers are the poorest of the working poor,” said Mike Cortés, executive director of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy, & Research Organization (CLLARO). “At a time when labor law protections for most workers are being increased, Colorado government wants to deny protection to the people who need it most.”
The Division of Labor Standards and Statistics in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has just released its proposal to expand employee protections under Colorado Overtime & Minimum Pay Standards (COMPS) Order number 36. The proposal states, “Workers in jobs in agriculture are exempt from the entire COMPS Order if they are not covered by, or exempt from, the minimum wage provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Cortés. “The State of Colorado shouldn’t follow the Federal government’s bad example of encouraging employer abuse of farmworkers. Most people never see the people working brutally long and hard hours for poverty-level pay to harvest the food we eat. There’s no excuse for such mistreatment.”
The proposed regulation does state that agricultural workers must receive “at least 10 minutes of rest in every 4 hours worked,” which was not guaranteed under the previous rule. When workdays last from sun-up to sun-down without overtime compensation or guaranteed meal breaks, this offers little comfort.
“Failure to cover agricultural workers in the updated wage order exacerbates the problems of a workforce that is frequently left out of labor protections and too often exploited,” said Zarah Levy, a CLLARO expert on human trafficking. “Research shows that farmworkers and sheepherders make up a substantial portion of the victims in prosecuted labor trafficking cases in Colorado.”
Most seasonal agricultural workers in Colorado are of Mexican descent. CLLARO, formerly known as LARASA, was founded as a charitable nonprofit in 1964 to help empower Latinos to solve problems they experience in their own communities and neighborhoods. “Our vision,” says Cortés, “is a State of Colorado where Latinos achieve their fullest potential.” The organization promotes health, education, and civic engagement among the state’s growing Latino population.
Cortés added, “This is not simply a migration issue. Some of the families we help trace their roots in the southwestern U.S. all the way back to the 1600s. Discrimination against people of Mexican descent has been a problem here since the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848.”
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