On June 25, 2021, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law SB21-087, a bill that includes a host of sweeping agriculture labor law reforms.
Styled by sponsors Senators Jessie Danielson and Dominick Moreno as establishing an “Agricultural Workers’ Bill of Rights,” the new law provides overtime and meal and rest periods for agricultural employees. It also prohibits the use of the short-handled hoe – an implement that has been banned in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
While Colorado farmers have long paid agricultural employees not less than the state minimum wage, the new law removes the exemption of agricultural labor from state and local minimum wage laws. The bill also tasks the Director of the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics in the Department of Labor and Employment to promulgate rules to establish the overtime pay of agricultural employees by January 31, 2022.
The new law also authorizes agricultural employees to organize and join labor unions; engage in protected, concerted activity; engage in collective bargaining, among other things. In addition, the legislation creates the Agricultural Work Advisory Committee to study and analyze agricultural wages and working conditions. Lastly, the bill creates various rights, remedies, and private rights of action for aggrieved agricultural employees.
The Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association was heavily engaged in expressing the industry’s concerns with the more problematic aspects of the bill during the committee hearing process through the time the bill landed on the Governor’s desk. Some of those concerns were heeded resulting in improvements over prior versions of the bill.