As has been outlined on previous blogs, the array of challenges all Central Coast Tri-County growers are facing this 2022 Salinas season are daunting. In the face of extraordinary inflationary cost headwinds, growers are self-accessing all aspects of their operations in order to implement efficiency plans in order to be as cost-effective as possible.
A portion of all growers’ respective costs has always been farm labor. The backbone of any farming operations is farm labor. No grower can hope to produce any crops without good, experienced, reliable farm labor. A high percentage of local farm labor is long-tenured workers with their respective farming employers.
During the summer growing season, all crops are growing at their fastest rate for the entire year. This is when growers are focused on producing the highest quality and yielding crops. With it comes the pressure of turning their first-season crops as quickly as possible to achieve their targeted plant dates for their second season crops. All of this takes expertise on the part of the grower, a little help from Mother Nature and plenty of experienced farm labor.
This season, growers will become weary to the weekly number of hours their farm laborers will be working. Knowing that they cannot afford to cut corners, and for all their expertise, growers can’t rush crops’ growing timeframe. All that comes with a backdrop of highest hourly labor wages to ever be compensated, as well as the lowest number of weekly hours worked before overtime compensation is implemented.
To provide some background, in 2016, the California state legislature approved an initiative to annually increase the California minimum wage structure. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, the hourly minimum wage was $10.50 per hour. As of Jan. 1, 2022, the hourly minimum wage was $15 per hour. During the six years of annual wage increases adjusted to a total of $4.50. The increase represented a 42% aggregate increase to the hourly minimum wages.
It is critical to point out that farm labor hourly compensation is almost always higher than the California minimum wage, with the type of farm work dictating most compensation levels. In nearly a similar timeline, the California legislature also approved reducing the number of weekly hours worked prior to overtime pay being implemented.
Beginning in January 2019, the number of weekly hours worked prior to initiating overtime pay was 55 hours. Ending in January 2022, the weekly number of hour worked prior to initiating overtime pay is 40 hours.
Under “normal” growing cost circumstances, the convergence of these legislative initiatives would be highly challenging. As previously mentioned, a large percentage of farm labor is long-term employees. It is the hard work and efforts of the farm labor that keep farms functioning. More than ever, growers will be ensuring all crops are produced, managing their costs, all while endeavoring to keep their farm labor’s weekly hours at fair and equitable levels.
Our national economic situation is reality. We are now all coping with inflationary conditions that we haven’t experienced for more than 40 years. Irrespective of the political ideology, 8% national inflation is negatively impacting the blue-collar middle class the hardest.
And it’s not only the growers who are feeling the brunt of challenging farming conditions. The farm laborer, whose work the nation depends on, is also caught in these unprecedented headwinds. That is one more critical reason grower compensation cannot go underrealized.