• July 20th, 2024
  • Saturday, 06:10:58 AM

Farmworker Advocates File Lawsuit Challenging Overtime Pay Standards Rule


Today, on César Chávez day, a holiday that celebrates the life of a civil rights activist who worked endlessly for the rights of agricultural workers, Colorado Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor, community, faith, and student organizations that unites to advance workers’ rights and economic, racial and gender justice, and Patricia Vital Rangel, a former farm worker, served a complaint filed against Governor Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, challenging a recently-promulgated rule that set overtime standards for Colorado’ agricultural workers.


The lawsuit alleges the rule is inconsistent with the authorizing statute, violates Colorado’s Administrative Procedure Act, and contrary to the guarantee of equal protection of the law under the Colorado Constitution. Colorado Jobs with Justice is represented by Towards Justice, Project Protect Food Systems, and Farmworker Justice, while Ms. Vital Rangel is represented by the Migrant Farm Worker Division of Colorado Legal Services.


The rule, which became effective on January 1, 2022, establishes that no agricultural workers will receive any overtime pay until after November 1, 2022.  At that point, agricultural workers will only get overtime after 60 hours, while most workers in Colorado are entitled to overtime pay after 40 hours in a workweek. This first phase will remain in place until January 1, 2024, at which time it will provide for substantially weaker overtime standards compared to workers in other industries, kicking in after 48 to 56 hours depending on the size of the employer and whether the employer is considered “highly seasonal.” The rule also establishes a lengthy phase-in period that spans years, meaning most workers will not see the full increase in pay until 2025.


“It is a monumental disappointment for workers who have long been excluded from overtime and other basic labor rights enjoyed by other workers in the state,” said Pamela Resendiz Trujano, Executive Director of Colorado Jobs with Justice.


For almost a century, agricultural workers have been excluded from many of this country’s most important and hard-fought labor rights, including the right to organize, the right to overtime pay, and in the case of thousands of Colorado farmworkers, the right to minimum wage. The origins of these exclusions, which go back decades, are explicitly racist–originally part of an effort to exclude workers of color from the New Deal’s most important labor protections.


“It is a monumental disappointment for workers who have long been excluded from overtime and other basic labor rights enjoyed by other workers in the state.”
Pamela Resendiz Trujano, Colorado Jobs with Justice


Last summer, Governor Jared Polis signed the Agricultural Workers’ Rights Bill, which was intended to extend workplace protections to agricultural workers that have long applied to other industries. The bill was introduced shortly after farmworkers in Washington successfully challenged a decades-old provision in state law exempting agriculture industry employers from paying overtime wages. The Washington Supreme Court struck down the provision because it violated the state’s constitution.


Farmworkers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the U.S.: Their average yearly earnings are between $20,000 and $24,999, according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey. “Labor laws, including overtime standards, are at the root of economic security and justice,” said Jenifer Rodríguez. “For generations we have seen that lax workplace-related standards rooted in racism negatively impacts worker health and economic well-being. It is profoundly disappointing that Colorado has continued this legacy.”


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