Nov 8, 2021

Charles serves as CCLP's Income and Housing Policy Director using data and research to support our efforts to stand with diverse communities across Colorado in the fight against poverty. Staff page ›

Recent articles

CCLP files comment on overtime protections for farmworkers in Colorado

by | Nov 8, 2021

The following comment was submitted on November 1 to Michael Primo, Director of Operations for the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics, regarding rulemaking pursuant to SB21-081: Agricultural Rights and Responsibilities and COMPS Order #38. Read our new issue brief on farmworker overtime in Colorado here.

Dear Mr. Primo:

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advocates to advance the needs and legal rights of Coloradans facing poverty and economic insecurity. We understand that social and economic forces—such as labor laws—are at the root of economic insecurity, which in turn negatively impacts heath and further diminishes social and economic well-being. We pursue policy objectives that mitigate the effects of poverty, support the health and economic security of Coloradans struggling to make ends meet, and move our state towards greater equity. Working towards equity requires correcting the influences of racism and other forms of oppression in our institutions and systems so that all people have a fair and just opportunity to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

CCLP submits these comments to the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) to express our concern with CDLE’s proposed overtime rule for agricultural workers, as included in the COMPS Order #38. We are concerned that the rule as proposed does not meet the mandate for CDLE as set out in SB21-087 to provide “meaningful overtime and maximum hours protections to agricultural employees”. We believe that CDLE should, at a minimum, include a 12-hour daily threshold for farmworkers in the final rule. And although the rule does set weekly hour protections for farmworkers, we do not believe that these are meaningful protections that will result in Colorado’s farmworkers working fewer hours. Overtime protections are in place to prevent over-work and guarantee workers have time outside of work to attend to personal matters or necessities, such as sleeping. Our labor laws require employers to pay their workers a higher wage rate for overtime hours to disincentivize employers from overworking their employees. As with any financial incentive, the increased cost of requiring a worker to work more than what we as a society deem acceptable or safe must be high enough so that it has a meaningful impact on employers’ behavior.

For example, the wage bill for a small employer with one farmworker who worked 60 hours per week at a wage of $13.25 per hour[1] would increase by $1,352 ($26 x 52 weeks) per year with a 56-hour overtime threshold. On the other hand, if farmworker received the same overtime protections at 40-hours, they would be $6,916 more expensive to employ each year. Said another way, we discourage non-farm employers in Colorado from overworking their employees by making them pay $7,000 per year for requiring a worker to work 60 hours per week, but this proposed rule would only require farm employers to pay $1,325 per year for requiring a worker to work 60 hours per week, one-fifth of the amount other employers would pay.

If preventing overwork is the goal of overtime protections, then we should look at what kinds of work weeks a 56-hour threshold would allow for farmworkers. Under the proposed rule, most farmworkers would still work an average of 11.2 hours per day if split across five days or an average of 9.3 hours per day if split across six days before receiving overtime pay. It is hard to see how a rule that would still allow workers to work 11.2 hours during a 5-day work week will reduce overwork among farmworkers. This is compared to an average of 8.0 hours over 5 days and 6.7 hours over 6 days for workers who are eligible for overtime after 40 hours.

We encourage CDLE to reconsider the overtime thresholds for all types of farmworkers. Ideally, this would be 40 hours a week. We hope whatever the final threshold or thresholds are, they are set low enough to encourage meaningful change by agricultural employers and not just maintain the status quo.

There will be costs to farmers, but our estimates encourage us that these costs will not destroy the agricultural industry in our state. Just 22.5 percent of Colorado farms even had hired labor in according the USDA in 2017. We estimate that these farms would see their aggregate expenses increase by less than 1 percent to accommodate the increased labor costs this rule would create for farmers. Interestingly, the impact of a 40-hour overtime threshold would still be less than 1% small in terms of aggregate costs to farmers. We do not feel that these costs, regardless of overtime thresholds, would be significant enough to have a harmful effect on the agricultural industry in Colorado. On the other hand, a lower threshold would have a much larger effect in preventing overwork among farmworkers, the goal of overtime protection, and would likely to raise the wages paid to farmworkers, which is great news for a population of workers who experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of other workers in Colorado.

I’ve included a more detailed analysis of our estimates in the pages following this comment. It also contains data on farmworkers and agricultural industry that we feel are relevant to CDLE’s rule making. If you have any questions on this our analysis and estimates, please contact Charles Brennan, Deputy Director of Research at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy at 303-573-5669 ext. 302 or cbrennan@copolicy.org.

Respectfully Submitted,

Charles Brennan
Deputy Director of Research
Colorado Center on Law and Policy

[1] This wage rate is based on CCLP’s estimates for the average wage paid to farmworkers in 2019.

PDF version of our comment on Overtime Protections for Farmworkers available here.

Recent articles

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.