Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 12:00 PM
'Small family farms don't have someone sitting in the human resources department'
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- An Oregon lawmaker is proposing to give farmers an extra 12 hours to pay workers on the last day of harvest, and he has the backing of farmworker advocates.
Under current law, farmers with labor camps are required to pay workers by midnight of the last day of harvest. Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, wants to give farmers until noon the next day.
Although rarely enforced, the current requirement can be a burden for farmers who complete harvest late in the day, Thomsen said.
"If you get done at 5 o'clock, there are a lot of things to get through before you even do your payroll," Thomsen said.
Thomsen, a Hood River orchardist, said it takes four hours to do payroll for the 50 or 60 workers he has on his payroll at any one time. He typically is in the orchard until the last pear is picked.
"Small family farms don't have someone sitting in the human resources department doing payroll," he said.
Paying by noon the next day "is very doable," he said.
Among bill supporters is Ramon Ramirez, president of the farmworker union PCUN.
"We've been working with Sen. Thomsen and the farmworker advocacy community to try to come up with a resolution based on fairness," Ramirez said. "We've agreed that this is something we would support."
Bureau of Labor and Industries communications officer Charlie Burr, said Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian is open to the proposal, and "is encouraged by how the talks (between stakeholders) are progressing.
"It looks like the stakeholders are working toward a resolution that supports workers and farmers," Burr said.
Thomsen said many farmers aren't aware of the current law. And, he said, given that most farmers pay workers within a day of completing harvest, complaints over late payment are rare.
But, he said, the law has been used to leverage settlements in labor disputes.
The proposal has yet to be assigned a bill number.