House Republican caucus room door signage
The Republicans appear to be unanimously against a proposal that would give farmworkers overtime after a 40-hour week. (File photo by Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

By Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle

A divisive proposal in the Oregon Legislature that would require employers to pay farmworkers overtime was shuttled on Tuesday to a joint bipartisan committee to work out a solution. 

House Bill 4002 would require that an estimated 86,000 farmworkers in Oregon are paid time and a half after a 40-hour workweek. That requirement would be phased in over five years, with employers provided tax credits over six years to cushion the extra business cost.

The proposal has strong Democratic support but Republicans appear to be unanimous in their opposition, something they made clear again on Tuesday when the House Revenue Committee voted to move the bill to the newly-formed bipartisan Joint Committee on Farmworker Overtime.

Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, a farmer, said the tax credits won’t do farmers any good if they don’t make much money.

“If you have no money coming in at the end of the year, there is no way the tax credit will do any good,” said Levy, a member of the House Revenue Committee. She joined two other Republicans and the four Democrats on the committee to move the bill without a recommendation to the newly formed joint committee.

Committee Vice Chair Rep. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, also spoke before the vote against the proposal, calling it a “Trojan cow.”

“It’s promising one thing, but I think it’s going to do something else,” Reschke said. 

Joint Committee on Farmworker Overtime
Co-Chair: Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene
Co-Chair: Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Eugene
Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles
Rep. Shelly Boshard Davis, R-Albany
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend
Sen. Kayse Jama, R-Portland
Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena
Sen. Kate Lieber, R-Beaverton
Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene
Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland
House Revenue Committee
Chair: Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene
Vice Chair: Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland
Vice Chair: Rep. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls
Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo
Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland
Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner
Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland

Republicans and farmers have said that the proposal would lead to farmworkers earning less pay because employers would cut their hours. Seven other states have approved some form of overtime pay for farmworkers, including Washington and California. Overtime pay went into effect this year in California, and Washington will require overtime pay in 2024.

Reschke also said he opposed the tax credits, which he said typically are used to encourage behavior, like buying an electric car.

“It shouldn’t be used to offset a cost that’s artificially placed on producers,” Reschke said.

Democrats are keen to pass the proposal this year after a similar plan died last session. They say it’s a matter of equity. Farmworkers have been excluded from overtime pay since the passage of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act that mandated overtime for most workers. 

Working out a political deal is now up to the 10-member committee, which was formed this week, with Republican leaders appointing four members and Democratic leaders choosing six members. The committee has an equal number of senators and representatives.

Rep. Paul Holvey, D- Eugene, and Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie, will co-chair the joint committee. Holvey chairs the House Business and Labor Committee which passed the proposallast Monday on a party line vote, with seven Democrats in favor and four Republicans against. It moved to the House Revenue Committee, chaired by Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, who is on the farmworker committee.

Democrats want to pass the bill in this session, which ends March 7. 

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