Nassif Warns that More Farmers Will Leave Highly Regulated California
By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
Earlier this summer, the California legislature voted down Assembly Bill 2757 which would have ended the 10-hour workday for farmworkers and eliminated their opportunity for overtime pay. Now, the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, is trying again with Assembly Bill 1066.
Tom Nassif, who has presided as president and CEO of Western Growers for the past 14 years, described this bill as a major cause for concern for farmers. “That’s very top-of-mind,” said Nassif. “Many of our members tell us the increase in minimum wage is onerous and the overtime bill is even worse; it will be more expensive and all it’s going to do is drive more producers out of production or into foreign countries,” he said.
From his many years as a labor attorney working with multiple growers and shippers throughout the state, Nassif has a clear understanding of how this type of bill would adversely affect the farmworkers it’s being touted as helping. “When you think about the fact that you’re going to be taking ground out of production or moving production somewhere else, eventually you’re not going to have enough jobs. Additionally, people are starting to move into crops that don’t require so much labor, like tree nuts, which are mechanized,” noted Nassif.
Nassif explained that over the past few years, the overall cost of farming in California has risen more than 30 percent resulting from the climbing cost of water, various types of government regulation, and increased wages. “If AB 1066 were passed and put into effect, farmers will do what they need to do in order to survive, including limiting worker hours and hiring additional workers to make up the difference, or simply moving the entire farming operation to another state that’s more cost-effective.”
Nassif noted he has already heard of some farmers who are not waiting for costs to become more expensive and have already left California. “No question; it has been happening for a number of years,” said Nassif, adding the number of departures is growing all the time.
“You cannot put up with the high cost of production and micromanagement by the government, whether it’s the state government or the federal government or even regional governments, and have an effective economic model for farming,” Nassif stated. “Pretty soon that is just going to drive everybody away. They can produce much more cheaply in foreign countries.”