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La Liga de Las Americas

Constitutionality of exempting farmworkers from minimum wage questioned by FLOC, Lupe Williams, others


By Marcus Tito Atkinson, Columbus Correspondent for La Prensa


Columbus: At a press conference at the Capitol’s southeast passageway last Friday, Jan. 26, 2007, the Farm Labor Organization Committee announced plans to join forces with the AFL-CIO to challenge the constitutionality of House Bill 690 [Am. Sub. H.B. 690 - Ohio Minimum Wage Law], which exempts some low-wage industries from the recent rise in Ohio’s minimum wage, in essence lowering their living wage. 


If necessary, FLOC and the AFL-CIO will proceed with a lawsuit, according to Baldemar Velásquez, president and co-founder of FLOC, headquartered in Toledo.

Lupe Williams with Strickland in Cleveland 2006


In November, 2006, Ohioans voted in favor of an increase in the minimum wage, from the federal low of $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour, but small farm employees and agricultural workers were left out of the constitutional amendment. 


The legislation, which was drafted by the Bob Taft administration, was called despicable by Velásquez. “All we want is a fair-day’s pay for a fair-day’s work,” he said. “To deny some of Ohio’s hardest working people this minimum wage increase is mean-spirited and contributes to an underclass in our state.”


According to Velásquez, the workers’ jobs are often seasonal, centered on harvest time of their particular crop and, therefore, they may only make about $4,000 during their harvest time, which is usually a 3-month period. 


Velásquez says about half of what they make is put back into Ohio’s economy “so how much does that leave them with?” 


Lupe Williams, an instructor at Ohio State University’s Agricultural Institute in Wooster, Ohio can’t believe the living conditions the workers go through and how poorly they get paid for the work that most Ohioans don’t want to do.  She also notes most of the workers are Latino.


“Taft should be ashamed,” she said.  “He knew all the time that our farmworkers were not included.”   


Williams described how the workers spend more then eight hours in the fields each day and then come home to cramped cabins in labor camps. “The chickens live cleaner then the workers,” she said.  “The pigs are cleaner then the workers.  This is not fair, and we are in the United States of America.”


FLOC is now looking to the future and Williams says with the new administration there is new hope. 


“We have faith in our new governor,” said Williams.  “He will help us.”


Before passage of H.B. 690, Ted Strickland urged Taft not to sign off on the exemptions.  As the new governor, Strickland plans on revisiting the exemptions for possible changes. 


Editor’s Note: For the history, application, and constitutionality of HB 690, see: http://www.myemploymentlawyer.com/serendipity/archives/22-Why-Ohios-current-Minimum-Wage-Legislation-is-Unconstitutional.html and http://www.ohiobusinessvotes.org/Advocacy/Issue2Implementation.asp





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