A proposed Colorado labor law, which includes sections on overtime pay and the use of hand-weeding, has passed the Colorado Senate and will be heard by the House State, Civic, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee June 3. 

The Agricultural Worker’s Rights bill would require overtime pay for farm employees working over 40 hours per week or 12 hours a day, but ag groups including the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association "worked very hard with Senate leadership, the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment (CDLE) and the Colorado Department of Agriculture" to persuade SB21-87 proponents to accept meaningful amendments." Among them: The overtime issue and others such as shade and break requirements, and the amount of water provided to workers would be decided in rulemaking by CDLE.

“SB21-087 in its original form would have made it impossible for most produce growers to stay afloat. We are thankful for the amendments passed in the Senate and hope the House will make further amendments to make this bill workable for growers.” said Bruce Talbott, co-owner/operator of Talbott’s Mountain Gold and president of CFVGA.

While some aspects of the bill have been amended to account for growers' concerns, the proposed law still restricts the use of hand-weeding, affording exemptions only to existing organic farms. Some conventional farmers use hand-weeding when they grow produce, using plastic or mulching systems that aim to minimize chemical use and conserve water. These systems will be eliminated if the hand-weeding ban is signed into law.

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CFVGA is calling on representatives to amend the law to send the specifics on hand-weeding to a CDLE rulemaking process as well.

A similar farmworker overtime law recently passed in Washington and another is being considered in Maine. California has had overtime protections for farmworkers since 2019 and a ban on hand-weeding with some exemptions since 2004.

Amber Strohauer from Strohauer Farms told CFVGA that twenty years ago Weld Country, where her family farms, had 64 potato growers. However, labor costs, which have risen 40% in the last decade, have pushed farmers to sell their land or switch to less labor-intensive crops. Today, Strohauer Farms is the only remaining potato grower in Weld County.

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