New State Law for Agriculture Pay
State Of The State: Ag workers win right to minimum wage, overtime pay.
A new state law designed to expand labor rights for people who work on Colorado farms and ranches requires agricultural businesses to pay their employees at least the state’s minimum wage.
The law also provides provisions for overtime pay, but some workers’ rights groups say the measure doesn’t go far enough.
Until now, Colorado farm workers have been exempt from the state’s minimum wage. But since the law went into effect in January, the state’s farms, ranches and other agricultural businesses are required to pay their workers at least minimum wage, which is $12.56 per hour.
Farms and ranches also must begin paying workers overtime in November — a month that most agriculture work typically slows.
But the way overtime pay is structured is complicated. Overtime — equivalent to time and a half — will be phased in over a few years. Farm workers will receive overtime after working 60 hours a week, while workers in most other industries are entitled to overtime pay after putting in 40 hours.
The first phase will last until Jan. 1, 2024, when overtime will kick on after 48 to 56 hours depending on the size of the employer and whether the employer is considered “highly seasonal.”
“Agricultural work is highly seasonal,” said Hunter Knapp, development director of Project Protect Food Systems, an organization that fights for the rights of food system workers. “People work for 56 hours a week for up to 22 weeks during planting and harvest time, but other parts of the year, it’s at 48 hours per week. Imagine being a worker trying to track which week is a peak week.”
Colorado Jobs with Justice, a coalition that fights for workers’ rights and economic, racial and gender justice, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment challenging the rule. The organization claims the rule is contrary to the guarantee of equal protection of the law under the Colorado Constitution.
“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.