Farmworkers reap a minimum wage



Idaho farmworkers now are entitled to the same right laborers across the nation have had for decades: a minimum wage (HCN, 12/18/00: Troubled harvest). Until recently, Idaho farmworkers were paid by the amount of apples they picked or the number of trees they pruned. But now, if that rate isn't equal to at least $5.15 an hour, employers must pay the difference. The legislation, which passed both houses of Congress in March, was written with input from farmworker advocates, farmers and the governor's office.

"I think it's pretty remarkable when you can get all sides to agree," says Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who carried the bill in the Senate. In order to reach consensus, the legislators excluded workers under the age of 16 who only work part-time, local farmworkers who worked less than 13 weeks the previous year, and sheepherders.

Still, farmworker advocates, who have fought for a minimum wage for four years, say this is a huge step for Idaho.

"This gives us a sense of dignity that we are worth some protection under the law," says Leo Morales, a farmworker for 11 years who lobbied on behalf of Idahoans for Minimum Wage. "We still have no insurance, no overtime, no child-protection laws, but this legislation starts to recognize us as human beings."

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has promised to sign the bill.