Why Has Colorado Declared War on Farmers and Ranchers?
The Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association has expressed deep disappointment with the final overtime rules published last Friday by the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment.
“While we greatly appreciate CDLE staffers visiting farms to collect input from farmers and farm employees over the last several months leading up to publication of the rule, we do not see that CDLE listened to current farm employees,” said Bruce Talbott, CFVGA president and a fruit grower in Palisade. “Employers are unlikely to pay overtime, jeopardizing the economic well-being of employees who count on the income for the hours they work to cultivate crops and bring in a harvest.”
Talbott notes that 80 percent of his orchard’s income is realized in just two months, making long hours essential to the success of Colorado produce farms.
Growers also are disappointed that no concession was made for foreign guest workers who do seasonal work under the federally supervised H2-A program. These workers made $14.82 per hour in 2021. In addition, the farmers who hire them pay all housing and daily transportation costs while they work in the United States. Depending on the cost of housing, this amounts to $18-$19 per hour these workers are paid. CFVGA had asked that H2-A workers either be exempt from the new Colorado overtime laws or that their overtime pay be calculated on a Colorado minimum wage rate.
“Proponents of this bill assume farmers will pay the overtime, but farmers operate on very thin profit margins, making paying overtime highly unlikely,” said Marilyn Bay Drake, CFVGA executive director. “Instead these rules will give agricultural employees smaller paychecks and force them to seek employment in other states. I’ve heard growers ask why our state is declaring war on farmers and ranchers. I’ve also heard from produce growers who will be looking to move more production out-of-state.”
Olathe sweet corn grower David Harold concurs that it feels like Colorado is becoming increasing hostile to agriculture. “I truly care about the people who work at our farm. My family and I have visited many of them off-season in Mexico, and we understand how important it is for them to be able to send their children to private schools, buy homes and even start farms and businesses.
They would never be able to do this without working as part of the H2-A program. This bill and this rule are kicks to the gut…for me and for them.”
“The labor market is already extremely tight, and farmers struggle to find qualified employees for their operations,” said Bay Drake. “This rule will make it even more difficult, especially to find H2-A workers willing to work in Colorado for thinner paychecks. The farmers and their employees aren’t the only ones who will suffer. Coloradans can expect to see less local produce available to them as this rule is implemented.”
Agriculture is among Colorado’s top three industries, contributing $47 billion annually to our state’s economy. The vast majority of its 38,900 farms are family owned. As a sector, Colorado agriculture employs more than 195,000 people.
The CFVGA is comprised of more than 250 members, including growers of all sizes and types of production throughout the state, as well as representatives of allied industries. The Colorado fruit and vegetable growing sector contributes nearly $485 million to Colorado at the farm gate and is multiplied as it goes through the distribution chain. Over 90,000 Colorado acres are in fruit and vegetable production.
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