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New Jersey minimum wage bill accepts ‘racist legacy’ of excluding farm workers; Gov. Murphy should veto measure

United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero and UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres issued the following statement today after the New Jersey Legislature voted 52-25 in the state Assembly and 23-16 in the Senate for the $15-an-hour minimum wage bill that excludes farm workers:

New Jersey lawmakers accepted the racist legacy of the Jim Crow South by passing a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill that leaves behind farm workers, an exemption that did not exist in state law. Governor Phil Murphy should veto the bill.

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.

The New Jersey 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 should have rejected the racist minimum wage bill until it treats the 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. California farm workers’ overtime bill went into effect in January.

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