A farmworker cultivates lettuce in October, 2013 in Holtville.

A farmworker cultivates lettuce in October 2013 in the Imperial County town of Holtville. ( John Moore/Getty Images)

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The nation’s top labor official says he supports California’s just-passed bill to expand overtime pay for farmworkers and is urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it.

“Farmworkers who put food on our table should be able to put food on their own table and make enough money to do so,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview Friday.

“Once again California can play a leadership role in demonstrating that we can take care of all our employees and do so in a way that is sensible and doesn’t break the bank,” Perez said.

On Monday the Assembly approved a proposal that calls for farmworkers to receive the same overtime pay as hourly workers in other industries.

Currently, farmworkers get time-and-a-half pay after working 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. Most other hourly workers are entitled to overtime pay after eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

Critics of the proposal include Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Lassen County, who is a farm owner.

“It’s not just this one bill that is killing my farm,” Dahle said. “It is that we just increased the minimum wage, and it’s going to go potentially up to $15 an hour by 2020. It’s the air quality standards that my trucks and tractors have to respond to. It’s the groundwater regulations that have been passed in the last two sessions.”

Some of the bill’s other critics say the added costs will hurt farmers and force them to cut their workers’ hours.

But Perez notes that the new overtime rules would be phased in over several years.

“They’re giving growers a pretty wide-glide path to implementation,” Perez said.

The labor secretary says there’s little chance the Obama administration would follow California’s lead, given that congressional Republicans are opposing an increase in the federal minimum wage.

“I’d like to say I have optimism that we could do more for farmworkers in this administration, but that would require a legislative fix,” Perez said.

Author

Ted Goldberg

Ted Goldberg is the morning editor for KQED News. His beat areas include San Francisco politics, the city's fire department and the Bay Area's refineries.

Prior to joining KQED in 2014, Ted worked at CBS News and WCBS AM in New York and Bay City News and KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1998.

You can follow him at @TedrickG and reach him on email at tgoldberg@kqed.org