This year Labor Day will be particularly meaningful for working families after recent historic votes in the State Legislature. Finally acting following years of struggle to roll back economic discrimination, on August 29 the state Assembly passed a bill to provide overtime pay to the farm workers who devote their working lives to the long and difficult tasks of growing and harvesting the food on our tables.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) authored the bill sponsored by the United Farm Workers (UFW) union.
Bringing dignity and fairness to more than 800,000 farm workers would not have happened without the aggressive support of organized labor. For decades, politicians from both political parties successfully blocked overtime pay for farm workers. Standing together with its labor brothers and sisters and elected allies in the Legislature, the UFW was able to convince a majority of law makers to at last do the right thing and pass legislation to eliminate an indefensible injustice against these indispensable workers.
The majority of Orange County’s legislative delegation, collectively demonstrating an absence of both fairness and empathy, predictably voted in a block against economic justice for farm workers. AB 1066 now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature.
There are many similar battles to come right here in Orange County. For the last 15-years, anti-worker politicians have attacked the wages and retirement security of public health nurses, law enforcement officers, food inspectors and other public workers who help keep our residents safe and healthy.
And today, the toll of those attacks remain. For example, Orange County is where a recent state audit revealed that female workers with the County of Orange earn 27-percent less on average than their male counterparts – illuminating gender pay disparity that is systemic here. Among the four counties reviewed by the California State Auditor, Orange County ranked dead last with the largest pay gap. OCEA is committed to ending gender pay discrimination in all arenas, but particularly in the County of Orange.
When thousands and thousands of working people stand and fight, they win. That’s why the labor movement is so critical in addressing the growing income inequality in our country that rewards the few at the expense of working families. The Pew Research Center found that fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, a dramatic increase from 29% in 1970.
Labor Day reminds us of the contributions workers made and continue to make in developing and maintaining the world’s largest economy. American workers put an end to child labor, established the 40-hour work week and set a standard for workers’ rights adopted by every other industrialized country in the world.
What was true then is true now: Unions represent the best chance for working Americans to have their voices heard and their rights respected in a global economy. It is workers who will to rebuild the middle class brick-by-brick just the way our parents and grandparents did.
Winning economic justice for farm workers is certainly cause for celebration this Labor Day. It also provides clear evidence that organized labor is needed by America’s working families now more than ever.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is the General Manager for the Orange County Employees Association, which represents approximately 18,000 workers in Orange County.
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