Colorado’s agricultural industry will soon have new rules aimed at protecting workers under a law that Gov. Jared Polis signed on Friday.
SB21-087 will allow agriculture workers to join unions, get paid at least minimum wage, and be eligible for overtime pay. It also requires employers to provide their workers with certain health and safety protections and restricts the use of the short-handled hoe — California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico have banned its use. And it provides protections for whistleblowers and agricultural workers who want to sue over working conditions.
“These are workers that have really been left behind from worker protections, and I think Senate Bill 87 brings them in line with the protections that are enjoyed by every other worker in Colorado,” said sponsor Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat.
The bill faced a contentious fight from the start. Republicans opposed the measure, saying it would harm the state’s $41 billion industry and does not take into account the differences between agricultural work and other professions. Democrats made concessions during the legislative process, such as sending some of the rulemaking regarding overtime to the Department of Labor and Employment, but it wasn’t enough to get everyone in the industry on board.
The new wage rules have to be adopted by January 2022.
Colorado lawmakers modeled their bill around provisions other states, including Arizona, New York and Washington, have given their workers. They also found what didn’t work in other states and avoided what Moreno called “pitfalls” like a California regulation on labor union recruitment that the Supreme Court ruled this week violated employers’ constitutional rights.
Bruce Talbott, president of the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said increased costs to employers for overtime pay, for example, could lead to a reduction in workers’ hours. That won’t be beneficial to the workers, he added.
“It just makes it more expensive to operate,” Talbott said. “My biggest fear is that workers aren’t going to want to come to Colorado.”
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