DENVER — Overtime laws for farmers and ranchers vary from state to state.
States like Texas and Kansas do not have laws that cover overtime for farmwork. In contrast, Colorado is now the seventh state in the country to require overtime for farm and ranch fieldwork.
“We believe that everyone deserves safe and dignified working conditions,” said Dan Waldvogle, who is with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “Well compensated employees are in agriculture’s best interest. However, we do believe farms and ranches have to be economically viable in order to provide those competitive wages.”
Waldvogle acknowledges there is a give and take as a result of the new law.
“One thing I can say about some of these rules is that it does create some higher standards to make sure that bad actors are rooted out and workers are protected,” Waldvogle said. “But food prices have gone up 14% or so. The problem is none of that is going to the farmer. The challenge is farmers and ranchers don’t have the ability to influence the prices they receive for the products they sell. If there are additional costs that they have to incur because of this bill and overtime rules, they’re going to have to absorb those."
According to the new law in Colorado, farmers and ranchers will pay field employees overtime starting in late 2022 after 60 hours worked in a week. In 2024, that hourly threshold drops to 54 hours for most operations.
According to a statement from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Division of Labor Standards and Statistics, the measures give Colorado the nation’s strongest protections against hazardously long hours.
“When I look at my farm, I am expecting this new overtime law will increase our labor cost by 10 or 15%,” said Gwen Cameron, a peach farmer in southern Colorado.
Cameron said smaller farmers and ranchers may need to cut down the size of their operations.
“Honestly, I am not sure how I’m going to account for those workers and still pay the bills keeping up with those new rules,” Cameron said. “What I wish happened was that we came up with a solution to raise all boats that pay workers better wages and help farmers receive better prices for their products so they can afford to pay those higher wages.”
James Henderson, a rancher and vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, is hoping for federal reform to allow for flexibility of H2A visa workers.
“A lot of H2A workers want to come and get as many hours they possibly can and return to their home country and support their family through that,” Henderson said. “We are very concerned that those workers are going to go states like Florida, Georgia or Alabama instead of coming to Colorado because of the limited hours. Things that could be done to balance this out is a federal fix in H2A reform and allowing those workers to have a little bit more flexibility. That would keep Colorado competitive.”