Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Overview: Colorado Governor Jared Polis has passed a bill that will provide farmworkers with minimum wage and overtime pay, as well as labor organizing rights.
Population: 5.9 million
Food policy category: Social and economic equity, food supply and distribution
Program goals: To increase farmworkers’ rights and improve their quality of life
How it works: The Agricultural Workers’ Rights law will grant farmworkers the following:
- The ability to organize, join, and engage in labor unions.
- The right to the state minimum wage ($12.32 per hour).
- The right to overtime pay for work exceeding 12 hours per day or 40 hours per week.
- Meal breaks and rest periods during the work day.
- Access and transportation, through their employer, to necessary services such as health care providers, legal services, banks, and stores.
- Eliminating the use of short-handled hoes that often result in permanent back injuries.
- The right to have visitors at employer-provided housing.
- Enhanced protections and safety precautions, provided by the employer, during public health emergencies.
Progress to date: The bill was introduced on February 16, 2021 and was signed into law on June 25.
Why it is important: According to a report by the American Public Health Association, the rate of fatal work-related injuries is seven times higher among farmworkers than the general working population and twice as high as it is among construction workers and miners. In addition, at least 30 percent of farmworker families live below the federal poverty line.
Historically, dating back to the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938, farmworkers have been excluded from labor laws. At that time, farmworkers were generally Black, and because of racism, were excluded from labor protections. To this day, despite their long hours of manual labor with exposure to hazards such as heavy machinery, pesticides, heat stress, and lack of clean drinking water, all to provide food for Americans, many exclusions still apply. This means that farmworkers have fewer rights than the general working population. The Agricultural Workers’ Rights law ensures many of those rights in order to improve Colorado farmworkers’ working and living conditions.
Program/Policy initiated: The policy is expected to go into effect by the 2022 growing season, which begins in May in Colorado.
Point of contact:
Office of Governor Jared Polis
Phone: (303) 866-2471
Similar practices: New York State passed a farmworker rights law in 2019, and Washington State enacted a law in May 2021 that guarantees full overtime pay for agricultural work exceeding 40 hours per week.
Evaluation: Evaluation has not been conducted because the policy has not yet gone into effect.
- A Human Rights-Based Approach to Farmworker Health: An Overarching Framework to Address the Social Determinants of Health (Journal of Agromedicine)
- Farmworkers in the United States (MHP Salud)
- Mapping Inequality: Farmworkers’ Rights under State Employment Laws (Farmworker Justice)
- US Labor Law for Farmworkers (Farmworker Justice)
- Agricultural Workers’ Rights (Colorado General Assembly)
- Colorado agricultural workers will get expanded rights, more pay. Here are the details. (The Colorado Sun)
- Colorado Governor Signs Farmworker Rights and Wages Law (US News)
- Colorado Set to Expand Rights for Farmworkers (Modern Farmer)
- Fact Sheet #12: Agricultural Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (US Department of Labor)
- The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, As Amended (US Department of Labor)
- Governor Cuomo Signs Farm Workers Bill (New York State)
- Improving Working Conditions for U.S. Farmworkers and Food Production Workers (American Public Health Association)
- Update: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis Signs Bill Enacting Some of the Strongest Farmworker Protections in the Nation (The Counter)
- Washington Governor Signs Agriculture Worker Overtime Bill (AP News)
- When a Garden Tool is the Means of Oppression (National Park Foundation)