Danielson’s ag labor bill penned without ag voices at the table
Colorado Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, is the main sponsor of an agriculture labor bill she calls the Farmworker Bill of Rights that puts minimum wage and overtime exemptions — and short- and long-handled hoes — on the proverbial chopping block. Leaders of the state’s major agriculture trade organizations said they were not contacted to offer input as stakeholders. Although Sen. Danielson is the vice chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and the bill is specifically drafted regarding agriculture labor, the bill has been assigned to the Business, Labor and Technology committee.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said the decision to draft legislation without input from the state’s agriculture groups and stakeholders is irresponsible, as is the assignment of the bill to a committee without the expertise needed for an agriculture bill. He said this committee assignment lacks common sense but isn’t a one-time oversight. Sonnenberg introduced the Deregulation Direct Sale of Animal Shares concerning animal and meat sales and that bill was assigned to the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee and the Senate Public and Behavior Health and Human Services Committee.
Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, said there is a coalition of agriculture groups that have all indicated they were not contacted by Sen. Danielson until late last week when any possibility of having a seat at the table had passed. Leadership and lobbyists for several of the major groups all confirm that they had no opportunity for input or even review.
The bill, Fankhauser said, goes far beyond any other labor bill that exists in the state.
“This is an egregious attack on agriculture and it’s going to also harm other labor employers,” he said. “It’s just not good policy and it’s not the right way to do things.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Rhonda Fields, D- Arapahoe, also a member of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Jefferson.
As introduced, the bill removes the exemption of agricultural employers and employees from the Colorado “Labor Peace Act” and authorizes agricultural employees to organize and join labor unions; engage in protected, concerted activity; and engage in collective bargaining; removes the exemption of agricultural labor from state and local minimum wage laws; requires the director of the division of labor standards and statistics to promulgate rules to establish the overtime pay of agricultural employees for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week or 12 hours in one day; grants agricultural employees meal breaks and rest periods throughout each work period, consistent with protections for other employees; requires agricultural employers to provide agricultural employees with access and transportation to key service providers; authorizes agricultural employees to have visitors at employer-provided housing without interference from other persons; requires agricultural employers to provide overwork and health protections to agricultural employees; prohibits the use of the short-handled or long-handled hoe for agricultural labor except in specific circumstances; during a public health emergency, requires an agricultural employer to provide extra protections and increased safety precautions for agricultural employees; creates the agricultural work advisory committee to study and analyze agricultural wages and working conditions; and creates rights, remedies, and enforcement actions for aggrieved agricultural employees, whistleblowers, relators, and key service providers.
Sen. Danielson said the bill “is about making sure that agricultural workers have the same basic protections as nearly every other worker in the state.”
“I come from a farming family and am extremely proud of the agricultural industry here in Colorado,” Danielson said. “Protecting agricultural workers from exploitation should be a common goal shared by producers, workers and community leaders. While most agricultural employers treat their employees well and pay them fairly, some workers are being exploited. Under current law, ag workers are exempted from the most basic protections that almost every other worker in the state enjoys — such as water breaks, minimum wage and overtime. The Farmworker Bill of Rights begins to address these gaps.”
Now that the bill has been introduced, Danielson said she has started the process of getting feedback and input from stakeholders.
“Prior to the introduction of the Farmworker Bill of Rights, on my own initiative I shared the draft with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Wheat Growers, Corn Growers, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, JBS, Colorado Livestock Association, Fruit and Vegetable Growers and Wool Growers to start the process of getting feedback and input,” she said. “There will be many conversations with producers on how we can strengthen a bill which has yet to be scheduled for its first hearing.”
As for stakeholders, Danielson said there were “many, many organizations involved in this process” and of those organizations involved, the following have taken a support position: Colorado AFL-CIO; Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights; Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition; Coloradans for the Common Good; Colorado Jobs with Justice; Colorado People’s Alliance; Conservation Colorado; Frontline Farming; Hispanic Affairs Project; Project Protect Food Systems; Towards Justice; and National Young Farmers Coalition.
House sponsorship includes Rep. Karen McCormick, D- Boulder, a veterinarian and vice chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee and Rep. Yadira Caraveo, and Reps. Duran, Kennedy, McLachlan, Sirota, Woodrow, and Young.
Members of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology committee are Chair Sen. Robert Rodriguez, D-Denver, Sen. Danielson, Sen. James Coleman, D-Denver, Sen. Chris Kolker, D-Arapahoe, Sen. Larry Liston, D- El Paso, Sen. Kevin Priola R-Adams, and Sen. Rob Woodward, R- Larimer.
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It’s time for Colorado meat producers to throw down the gauntlet.