Monday, March 04, 2013
Americans understand that farmers work
hard, but for most, that's all they know. They don't know that
farmers' work schedules are dictated by unpredictable weather and
deadlines that don't budge (i.e. harvest, cows giving birth.)
Family farmers don't work until the workday is done… they
work until the work is done.
Illinois Farm Bureau has made battling this understanding one of
its legislative priorities for 2013: Oppose legislation
eliminating the overtime exemption for agricultural employers or
implementing an inflationary increase in the minimum wage.
Currently there is a minimum wage bill in the Illinois Senate
that would eliminate the overtime pay exemption given to farmers
because of their unique needs. IFB's state legislation team offers
a report about this proposal.
By Illinois Farm Bureau Legislation Team
An amendment to Minimum Wage Bill (SB 68 by Senator Lightford)
has been introduced, which would increase the state's minimum wage
and eliminate the exemption for overtime for agricultural
Specifically, it will calculate Illinois' minimum wage by using
a complicated formula of annual increases of 50¢ plus the rate of
inflation until it reaches about $10.58. The goal, according
to the sponsor, is to have an amount that is an inflation adjusted
level equivalent to $1.60 in 1968. Once Illinois' minimum
wage reaches $10.58, then the legislation allows for annual,
automatic increases tied to inflation. IFB opposes
Senate Amendment #1 to SB 68.
The bill also eliminates other business sector exemptions:
Illinois is already tied for fourth place in the country for
having the highest minimum wage, which is currently $8.25. The
highest is the state of Washington at $9.00. A $10.58 wage
would move Illinois to the highest minimum wage in the
country. Illinois' Midwestern neighbors currently have the
federal minimum wage, which is $7.25.
This has been an issue since last year, when Senator Lightford
pushed this same proposal. Senator Lightford has held monthly
meetings since that time to see if there was "common ground" on her
proposal. During these meetings, numerous issues arose and
Illinois Farm Bureau was asked to provide information on family
owned farms and farm employment in the state of Illinois.
Specifically, IFB was asked several questions regarding the minimum
wage issue and agriculture. The following are answers to the
key questions that were asked:
Q: How many farms are in the State of
A: According to the National
Agriculture Statistics Service, in 2011, Illinois had 74,600
Q: What percentage of farms in Illinois are family
A: According to the USDA Economic
Research Service, in their "Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms:
Family Farm Report" for year 2010, "most U.S. farms- 98% in
2007-are family operations, and even the largest farms are
predominantly family run." The Census of Agriculture 2007
(which is conducted every 5 years) reported that 4% of Illinois
farms are "incorporated" and that 88% of those are "family
held." Less than 1/2 of 1% of all farms in Illinois are
"corporations not run as family operations."
Q: How many employees do family farms typically employ?
Of those employees, how many are typically not family
A: The 2007 Census of Agriculture
reported that 16,000 Illinois farms (21% of all farms) employed
"hired labor" for a total of 56,444 hired workers.
6,233 of these farms employed workers for more than 150 days,
meaning they were regular hires and not seasonal hires.
3,003 of these farms employed one worker (4% of all farms)
1,559 of them employed two workers (2% of all farms)
1,009 employed 3 to 4 workers (1.3% of all farms)
662 employed 5 or more workers (just under 1 % of all
In all, 8% of Illinois farms
employed at least one worker for more than 150 days. We do not know
the number of these workers that are "directly hired family
workers," but we do know they were directly hired for pay, and not
family members working for no pay.
Q: What percentage of family farm employees are part
time vs. full time?
A: Of the 16,369 Illinois
family-farms with "direct hired" employees, as reported in the 2007
Ag Census, approximately 10,000 only hired workers for less
than 150 days each (62% of all farms with hired labor),
approximately 3,000 only hired workers for more than 150 days (18%
of all farms with hired labor), and the other approximately 3,300
hired both "less than 150 days" and "more than 150 days" workers
(20% of all farms with hired labor).
Q: How many farm workers in Illinois are employed by
farms that are not family owned?
A: Unknown. However, given that less
than half of 1% of all farms in Illinois are "corporate farms not
run as a family operation" (i.e., "corporate farms") it is unlikely
that they employ more than a very small percentage of the total
hired farm workers in the state.
During the discussions, it became clear theri one major
misconception is that most farmers in Illinois are large corporate
farms. The information above shows most family farms employ
very few full-time employees, aside from the primary owner and
operator. The majority of hired farm employees are seasonal
workers who work four to six weeks during spring planting or fall
harvest. They are hired with the understanding they must work
at the whim of the weather. It was stressed that farmers cannot
dictate when they work overtime. Depending on the weather,
they may have to work day and night, possibly 80 hours a week, to
get a crop planted or harvested during a small window of
opportunity. Failing to do so can mean significant crop losses.
An additional reason for IFB's opposition is that farmers have
no ability to recoup additional labor costs resulting from overtime
or increased wage rates. The price for farm commodities is
set by the futures markets. Farmers have no ability to
significantly change the price they receive for their farm
commodities. Unlike other businesses, farmers cannot raise
the price they charge for their goods in response to increased
labor costs. Increasing the wage rate or eliminating the
overtime exemption would have significant negative economic
consequences for farmers.
SB 68, Amendment #1 has been assigned to the Senate
Executive Committee. IFB is opposed to Senate Amendment #1 to
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