United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero and UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres issued the following statement today regarding New Jersey’s $15-an-hour minimum wage bill that excludes farm workers:
New Jersey legislators and Governor Phil Murphy should reject the racist legacy of the Jim Crow South by opposing the $15-an-hour minimum wage bill because it excludes farm workers.
Southern lawmakers demanded farm workers’ exclusion from overtime pay after eight hours a day when the federal Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938. Why? Because in the South of the ‘30s, most farm workers were African Americans. Most of them are Latino today. Southern politicians did not hide their bigoted motivation, arguing that white and African American workers could not be paid the same.
New Jersey lawmakers will vote on a phased-in proposal to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. Yet by 2024, New Jersey farm workers’ minimum wage would only be $12.50 an hour, an exemption that doesn’t currently exist in state law.
The bill would create a minimum wage for farm workers by 2024 below what they are currently earning. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Labor Survey for field and livestock workers in the region including New Jersey shows the average wage for farm workers in 2018 was $13.15 an hour. How can this proposal call for a mere $12.50 an hour minimum wage five years from now?
Farm workers’ hard work and professionalism feed us all. It is not acceptable in 2019 for any farm worker to be denied the right to decent pay. New Jersey’s lawmakers and governor must reject the racist minimum wage bill until it treats hard-working, tax-paying farm workers the same as everyone else.
California’s Legislature and then-Governor Jerry Brown in 2016 ended the exclusion of California farm workers from overtime protections with a United Farm Workers-sponsored state law phasing in overtime after eight hours a day by 2022.