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Farmworkers Sue for Overtime Protection
“Driving up costs to family farms could be devastating to Oregon’s ag economy”

The Oregon Law Center has filed a lawsuit naming the Bureau of Labor and Industries asking that the courts to force an overtime policy on Oregon agriculture that some say ignores the realities of the industry and threatens its future in the state.

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 3458 neatly along party lines in the House and, puzzlingly, unanimously in the Senate after being amended. The House overwhelmingly concurred in the Senate version, which was signed into law, by Governor Kate Brown.

This legislation directs employers in manufacturing and food processing sectors to pay the greater of daily or weekly overtime when employee is eligible for both in same workweek and declares employers compliant with certain overtime laws by doing so and prohibits employer from requiring manufacturing and food processing employees to work more than 55 hours in workweek. At issue is an existing law that exempts agriculture from the policy.

According to the lawsuit, Oregon has more than 86,000 agricultural workers. The agricultural worker population is overwhelmingly Hispanic. According to the most recent relevant data, more than 88% of Northwest region agricultural workers identify as Hispanic.

The lawsuit connects this to the equality clause of the Oregon Constitution to create an alleged act of racial discrimination. Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution prohibits laws “granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges or immunities, which upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.” This provision protects against disparate treatment of “suspect true classes” of citizens, even by laws that are facially neutral. It does not require proof of intentional discrimination.

“Attorneys are attempting to circumvent a legislative process already underway by forcing a deeply partisan and costly overtime policy on Oregon’s farm and ranch families,” said Representative Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles). “Their intention to expand a 2017 manufacture overtime bill is completely disconnected with the intention of this original legislation that has nothing to do with agriculture production. Oregon’s family farms are already suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, market and shipping disruptions and extreme weather events. Despite these struggles, the Oregon Law Center is pushing an agenda that could be the final nail in the coffin for countless Oregon families and local producers.”

“This unnecessary action sidelines an inclusive legislative process on agriculture overtime,” added Representative Shelly Boshart Davis (R-Albany). “Capping the hours of employees working in agriculture and driving up costs to family farms could be devastating to Oregon’s ag economy with negative consequences. That’s why this is a very complex process that needs a careful approach with everyone’s input. This lawsuit takes a sledgehammer to the conversations underway and forces a one-size-fits-all solution for the entire industry in the state with little care for how it will negatively impact our local farms and families.”

--Staff Reports

Post Date: 2021-12-02 06:33:49Last Update: 2021-12-01 18:50:21

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