The San Joaquin Valley is the agricultural powerhouse of the United States and California. California accounts for an eighth of U.S. farm sales, largely because it produces high value fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, and horticultural specialty (FVH) crops such as nursery products and flowers. Over three-fourths of the state's $37 billion in farm sales in 2010 were crop commodities, and almost 90 percent of the $28 billion in California crop sales represented labor-intensive FVH commodities.

About half of California's farm sales and farm employment are produced in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley with four million residents that stretches from Stockton in the north to Bakersfield in the south. The leading U.S. farm county is Fresno, which had farm sales of almost $6 billion in 2010.

Update on California farmworker overtime, employment and healthcare

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California requires overtime pay for farmworkers, one of four states to do so. In 1976 the 10/60 standard (that requires overtime after 10 hours a day or 60 a week, different than the standard eight hours a day and 40 hours a week for non-farmworkers) was established in 1976.

Across the U.S., workers hired directly by the farm that employed them averaged 41 hours of work in July 2015; California farmworkers averaged 43.6 hours. Most harvest workers are employed less than eight hours a day, but some work six days a week during the harvest. Workers most likely to be affected by an 8/40 overtime pay requirement are irrigators and equipment operators, who often work 60 or more hours a week during busy periods.

Sonoma County farm labor contractors (FLCs) Four Seasons Vineyard Management and Ridge Vineyards were fined $42,000 by the Department of Labor (DOL) in February 2016 for poor housing for farmworkers. Four Seasons deducted rent from the wages of workers and turned rental payments over to Ridge.

Two California Court of Appeals decisions in 2013 required employers to pay piece rate workers for nonproductive time and to pay them for rest periods at their average piece-rate earnings. Before these 2013 rulings, employers could pay only piece-rate wages to workers as long as their piece-rate earnings exceeded the minimum wage.

Many workers planned to sue for back wages. AB 1513 gave employers a "safe harbor," allowing them to pay any back wages due piece-rate workers after July 1, 2012 without penalties. However, employers who faced suits for unpaid productive time and for using fictitious workers to reduce wages were excluded from the safe harbor.

Two farms are affected by these exclusions, Gerawan Farming and Fowler Packaging. Both face United Farm Workers-initiated suits, and both sued in January 2016 to have the AB 1513 exemption declared unconstitutional.


Agriculture is often characterized as an industry of small farmers producing similar commodities from similarly sized farms. However, a higher share of the workers employed on California farms are employed on large farms with 1,000 or more employees, 17 percent during the third quarter of 2014, than in all California industries, 14 percent.

Indeed, 64 percent of farmworkers were employed on farms with 100 or more employees during the third quarter of 2014, compared to 45 percent of workers in all California establishments. Crop support workers were most likely to be employed on large farms, almost 80 percent were employed by firms with 100 or more employees.

Small farms, those with less than 10 employees during the third quarter of 2014, employed seven percent of all farmworkers, while fewer than 10 nonfarm establishments employed 15 percent of all California workers. Livestock workers were most likely to be employed on small farms, about 10 percent were on farms with less than 10 employees.

Affordable Care Act 

Beginning January 1, 2016, employers of 50 or more full-time workers must offer health insurance to their employees or pay a penalty. FLCs report that insurers are charging them at least $300 per month per employee. Workers can be required to contribute up to 9.5 percent of their earnings for health insurance, so that a worker earning $450 a week can be required to contribute almost $43 for health insurance.

Most workers decline to contribute for health insurance. National Agricultural Worker Survey data suggest that 85 percent of farm worker children, and over half of women in farm worker households, obtain health insurance through government programs.

This post was an excerpt of the most recent Rural Migration News published in April 2016.


Rural Migration News summarizes the most important migration-related issues affecting agriculture and rural America. Topics are grouped by category: Rural America, Farm Workers, Immigration, Other and Resources.


There are two editions of Rural Migration News. The paper edition has about 10,000 words and the email version about 20,000 words.


Distribution is by email. If you wish to subscribe, send your email address to ruralmigrationnews-subscribe [at} Current and back issues may be accessed at


The paper edition is available by mail for $30 domestic and $50 foreign for one year and $55 and $95 for a two-year subscription. Make checks payable to Migration Dialogue and send to: Philip Martin, Department of Ag and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, California 95616 USA.

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Philip Martin is Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California- Davis, chair of the University of California's Comparative Immigration and Integration Program, and editor of the monthly Migration News and the quarterly Rural Migration News.


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