CFVGA addresses changing Colorado ag labor law
While virtually every industry across the nation is affected by the hot-button issue of labor, agriculture is among the hardest hit by shortages and regulations.
In Colorado, some consider ag labor to be the biggest challenge facing producers. At the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, headquartered in Eaton, CO, Executive Director Marilyn Bay Drake said in mid-August a bill signed by Gov. Jared Polis this year could potentially impact Colorado’s produce growers.
She said passage by the 2021 Colorado General Assembly of SB21-087, the Agricultural Workers’ Rights, “scoops up all ag labor changes made in California over many years and dumps them collectively onto Colorado agricultural employers.
“We have an entire webpage devoted to this bill, but in a nutshell, beginning with the 2022 growing season, this bill will impose overtime pay, regulate when and how breaks are taken, allow service providers including union organizers to meet with workers at their place of work and in worker housing with no notice and reduce worker hand weeding to 20 percent of the work week, with some exceptions,” she continued. “It also has eliminated without exception use of a short-handled hoe.”
Drake added, “CFVGA was able to work with a coalition of all the state’s other associations to get several provisions moved out of statute and into a rulemaking process, which is very helpful. Even so, it will dramatically change ag labor law in Colorado.”
Produce growers, she said, “are especially hard hit, because their employees work very long hours during harvest and at other times during the short growing season and because many operations still do a lot of hand weeding.”
Agreeing with Drake’s assessment, recently elected CFVGA President Bruce Talbott, co-owner and operator of Talbott’s Mountain Gold peach and wine grape orchard in the Western Slope community of Palisade, CO, said of the measure, “Since much is still in rulemaking, we don’t know what the final impact will be. We are concerned that the cost of production of high touch crops in Colorado will go up, making us less competitive — but of even more of a concern is that if farm workers have their incomes significantly reduced because of hour caps caused by overtime, they will choose to go to other areas where they can make more income with limited hour restrictions and/or the ability to work much longer seasons.”