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Agricultural Exceptionalism at the State Level: Characterization of Wage and Hour Laws for U.S. Farmworkers

Rodman, Sarah O., Barry, Colleen L., Clayton, Megan L., Frattaroli, Shannon, Neff, Roni A., Rutkow, Lainie
Journal of agriculture, food systems, and community development 2015-2016 v.6 no.2 pp. 89-110
farm labor, issues and policy, laws and regulations, working conditions, United States
Despite difficult working conditions, farmworkers in the United States are excluded from many federal-level labor protections. The exclusion of farmworkers from standards that apply to most other workers is referred to as agricultural exceptionalism. This exclusion was born out of the successful efforts of southern agricultural interests to exempt black sharecroppers from the New Deal package of social reforms. Farmworkers continue to belong to particularly vulnerable social and economic groups. U.S. states can establish their own labor protections that go beyond federal laws and regulations. Though agricultural exceptionalism is understood at the federal level, little is known about agricultural exceptionalism in state labor standards. This study is a comprehensive 50-state legal and regulatory mapping of minimum wage, overtime, and rest and meal period standards as they apply to farmworkers. To analyze the extent of agricultural exceptionalism in the states, we performed a search of iteratively defined search terms in WestLawNext. Two researchers independently read and coded identified state laws and regulations in their entireties. Results reveal that agricultural exceptionalism is far-reaching in state-level minimum wage and overtime protections. Exceptionalism is universal in overtime standards. Rest and meal period standards exist less frequently at the state level, and exceptions for agriculture in those standards are rare. The results from this analysis are useful in identifying states and policy areas with strong and weak protections for farmworkers.