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An Oregon Farmer’s Opinion on House Bill 2358

Op-Ed submitted by Yamhill County Oregon farmer Tom Hammer about House Bill 2358 and how it would impact small farming businesses.

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House Bill 2358, which requires overtime pay for farm workers, is likely to come up again in the Legislative short session next month.  It began life in the committee on Business and Labor chaired by Paul Holvey of Eugene. Committee members Salinas and Ruiz joined Holvey in sponsoring HB 2358. Its current home is the joint committee on Ways & Means formerly Chaired by Betsy Johnson. Betsy  changed parties to run for Governor and is no longer in a position to affect the life of this bill. 

Currently those in food processing, not working on a farm, receive time and one half overtime pay after 10 hours worked in a day. Since their working conditions are better those in food processing experience a pay rate much lower than the rate paid to farm workers. Farm work is  exempted from overtime. That was assured when the federal Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938. Farm worker advocates say FLSA was passed so that blacks doing farm work in the south could not get overtime.

Andrea Salinas D- Lake Oswego, co-sponsor of HB 2358,  has offered an amendment to the bill which will phase in overtime pay over a three year period. The Oregon Farm Bureau has rejected the idea. Colorado has a bill that pays overtime for farm work that the Oregon Farm Bureau hasn’t rejected. It phases in overtime pay but exempts overtime pay for 22 weeks of the year when peak labor occurs.

The OFB points out that Oregon is already a tough place to do business due to taxes and regulations. Oregon’s 36,000 family farms have seen their margins shrink in the last decade while their labor costs have practically doubled.  Oregon’s minimum wage is $12 per hour while farm labor is fetching $18. You might say farm workers are already getting one and one half time pay for all hours worked. Oregon farm worker pay is established by market forces that have Oregon farms competing for labor with California and Washington. The HB 2358 overtime rule would defy competitive market forces on worker pay.

The last decade has seen the family farm slowly give way to the corporate buyout as some families struggle financially or with succession plans. No one disputes that farm work is arduous for both farmer and worker. The difference is that the worker can seek a new line of work if they are displeased.    

Much of farm work is performed by unskilled labor, 90% Latino.  It provides entry level jobs to the overall jobs market. That has been the case for local Oregon youth and immigrants for over 150 years. Labor laws born of the 1970’s discouraged youth from farm work that was performed by their parents in the 1950’s. That was a cultural shift in which farm work could no longer provide an essential role in establishing the work ethic among Oregonians. New attitudes toward work shape today’s voters.

Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1906.  John Steinbeck wrote the Grapes of Wrath in 1939. Both foster images of horrible working conditions and exploitation in farm work and food processing. Sal Alinsky was Cesar Chavez’s private tutor in forming the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. With boycotts and hunger strikes they found success in expanding the union. As any country grows it creates more jobs in unskilled labor. With Chavez as front man many of those filling the ranks of the unskilled were illiterate and easily captured by the Farmworkers Union. Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, PCUN, based in Woodburn is out to grow their dues base and political muscle. Anyone who disagrees with this recruiter of only Latinos is called a racist. While most Latino’s gain literacy and assimilate into society organized farm workers lag in assimilation.

Now we have a humanitarian crisis at the border. The Latino Unions are not discouraging the caravans or their result. They are not condemning the sex trafficking, drug trafficking and criminal element that enters the country as a result. They teach ways for caravanners to game the system. They seek membership from just one ethnic group wishing to reinforce their hold on these newcomers who are lost without some  help in entering the job market as they leave the caravans. Do they really care about the newcomers?  Are they concerned about the health of primary industry in the economy we all depend on?

Andrea Salinas was formerly an officer in SEIU 503.  The same SEIU that marches arm in arm with CPUSA in the Los Angeles May Day parade each year. Her concern is not for newcomers welfare. It is in elevating a political career as she attempts to leap from the Oregon House of Representatives to the U.S. Congress in CD 6.  Coincidently, she helped redraw the new Congressional District 6.  She has competition in the race from two others in her party.  What better way to differentiate herself from the pack than by demonstrating she can bring new voters and new resources to the party via HB 2358?

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Tom Hammer
Tom Hammer
Tom Hammer is a 75 year old native Oregonian and Hazelnut farmer. His interests include civics and public policy. A member of NFIB small business advocates, he believes free market economics is our common bond.
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