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Gov. Polis signs 'Farmworker Bill of Rights' into law

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Governor Polis signs the 'Farmworkers Bill of Rights' into law Friday, June 25
The bill will give thousands of farmworkers in Colorado more pay and expanded workplace protections.

DENVER — In Colorado, there are an estimated 39,764 agricultural workers on about 9,000 farms, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. 

A bill that grants those workers the right to have meal breaks, rest periods, access to cold water and shade when it’s hot outside, protections against retaliation if they talk about their work conditions, and the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay is now law.

Governor Jared Polis signed the bill Friday, June 25, on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol. He was joined by a large crowd of people who supported the bill.

Polis speaks on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol before signing the 'Farmworker Bill of Rights' into law.

Both the House and the Senate passed SB 21-87, dubbed the "Farmworker Bill of Rights," earlier this month. State Representative Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton), the bill’s sponsor, said it is time that farmworkers are recognized as essential workers and given the benefits of essential workers. 

“It’s not just about talking about how important it is that they put food on our table, especially during the pandemic,” she said, "but then when they raise issues like these very basic protections, we get a lot of pushback.”

Before this bill was passed, most agricultural workers were exempt from state and local minimum wage laws and overtime pay. This bill removes that exemption and requires that wages be adjusted annually for cost of living, and for the workers to get some form of overtime pay.

Rep. Caraveo said these are all protections many people would think farmworkers already have. 

“These are rights that most workers in the United States have and agricultural workers have repeatedly been excluded from, really because of a system that has been institutionally racist,” Caraveo said.

Another part of the bill requires employers to provide health protections and increased safety precautions during public health emergencies.

For Caraveo, one of the most important parts of the bill is that it would create a committee made up of mainly farmworkers in which those workers could analyze their own wages and working conditions, then write an annual report with findings and recommendations for the General Assembly. 

Right now, she said, a lot of the existing committees mostly represent employers.

“Agriculture cannot function without these workers. It’s not just about who owns the farm, it’s about who works the farm, and we need to recognize their value in the system,” said Caraveo.

She knew the bill was going to face an uphill battle: “agriculture is a very powerful lobby and industry in Colorado, so we knew we were going to have to fight for it the entire way. I am very happy with the fact that the major tenants of the bill all stayed in the bill.”

The final version of the bill diverts some decisions to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor. Those departments will determine rules on things like working conditions and overtime pay during a public rulemaking process. 

The rulemaking process will start by the end of the year.

“Upon signage from the Governor, anti-retaliation protections will be in place as well as the ability to collectively bargain,” said Caraveo. “Even just speaking to each other about their working conditions is something they have not been able to do in the past and that they face retaliation for a lot of times.”

Sonia Gutierrez is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

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