Challenge to Farmworker Piece-Rate Pay May Actually Depress Wages
By Brian German, Associate Editor
Assembly Bill No. 1513 requires employees who are paid on a piece-rate basis to be compensated separately for rest and recovery breaks, and to be paid an hourly wage for non-productive time under the employer’s control, according to Anthony Raimondo, a Fresno-based attorney who has represented farmers and farm labor contractors since 2001.
Raimondo contends that while the bill was designed with the best intentions, its application may be detrimental to farmworkers. “The State of California believes that if piece-rate workers are not paid additional hourly wages for their ten minute breaks, they are being cheated,” Raimondo explained, “even though, every single day, every worker in California on a-piece rate basis always makes above minimum wage for the hours they work on that day.”
Raimondo, who has assisted employers with strategic planning and labor relations and who regularly defends wage claims before the California Labor Commission, elaborated on why farmworkers prefer piece-rate compensation. “You won’t see a day in our fields where a worker on piece-rate’s total earnings total less than what he would have made hourly on a minimum wage. That is why the unintended consequences of these laws will be to depress worker’s wages,” said Raimondo.
“It is why workers demand piece-rate from us; they don’t want hourly wages. Because we work in market-based commodities, the more the employer can tie earnings to production, the higher the wages that employer can deliver to the worker. They are both benefitting from an economic bargain that generates revenue through the ranch for both the employer and the employee. When compensation is tied to production, everybody makes more money,” he noted.