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California Piece Rate Pay Laws for Farmworkers & Field Workers

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What does piece rate mean?

Piece rate is a pay system that pays workers in a manner other than being paid by the hour or paid by time. For instance, farm piece rate pay systems may pay you by the bushel, or by weight of the fruit or vegetables that you pick. Or the piece rate may be measured by a row of plants, or how many rows you tie, etc.  Or, for example a certain amount of money per raisin tray for grapes.
 

California Labor Code Section 226.2

California has  piece rate Labor Code Section 226.2. It went into effect on January 1, 2016. 
 
It is called the Piece Rate Law, because it is a statute that requires piece rate workers (including farm workers) to get paid for all the time that they work. This includes what is called “non-productive time” (I explain what that is shortly) and that you must be paid separately for rest breaks.
 
I know California Labor Code Section 226.2 very well, because I am the only workers’ lawyer that was asked to testify before the California State Senate on 226.2. 
 
 

What is wrong with this photograph of California farm workers picking strawberries? ...
(or what in this photograph means that you are probably owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages if you're a piece rate farmworker?) 

 
For example, look at this photograph. Look carefully. There are thousands of dollars in unpaid wages for you in this photograph if you're a California farmworkers that isn't paid by the hour. 
 
California wage law for farm workers - piece rate farm workers are owed A LOT of wages!
 
 
Do you see all of the cars parked on the street behind the pickers?  Look closely. A few hundred yards away there is a street where cars are parked.
 
The walk from the street to where you are picking or from where you are picking to the street, to your car is
non-productive time that MUST be paid by the company under California Labor Code Section 226.2.  
 
I know California Labor Code Section 226.2 very well, because I testified before the California State Senate on this new law. 
 

Every farm worker in California that is paid by piece rate has some unproductive time every day.

I can almost guarantee it.

In this article I give you an example which explains why you're probably owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages if you're a farmworker that is not paid by the hour (meaning you're paid by a  piece rate pay system).
 
In this article I talk about the following questions and issues: 
 
Examples of piece rate compensation for farmworkers.
 
Why is Bill Turley asked to testify concerning wage law legislation at the California State Senate and the California Assembly?
 
Piece rate workers must still be paid at least minimum wage for all time that they work.
 
Am I supposed to get paid rest breaks if I'm a piece rate farmworker?
 
What is non-productive time?
 
You must be paid for all down time (non-productive time).
 
Even 2 minutes per shift in unpaid time adds up to thousands of dollars (this is HUGE, don’t miss this).
 
Examples of non-productive time that you must be paid for.
 
What has to be on my pay stub if I am a piece rate worker?
 
How much am I owed for each pay stub violation for each pay period? (Up to $4,000)
 
If you're piece rate farmworker and non-productive time is NOT listed on your pay stub, you're owed wages, pay stub penalties and waiting time penalties! 

How can not getting paid for 2 minutes of time each day add up to thousands of dollars for farmworkers?

Examples of piece rate compensation for farm workers/ agricultural workers

  1. Grape pickers: The pickers cut grapes from the vine, clip the bunches, and place the bunches in a tub.  The pickers were paid between $3.00 and $5.00 per tub.
  2. Grape packers: The packers are paid to pack the grapes. The packers are paid between $1.00 and $2.00 per box.
  3. Field marking: field markers are paid on piece rate basis - at 5 cents for each mark tied.
  4. Tomato tying - workers that tie tomato plants are paid per row or every 100 feet.
  5. Citrus harvesters: paid per box or per bag.
  6. Garlic picking - paid by the bucket of what you pick.
  7. Lettuce - paid by the box what you pick.
  8. Radishes - paid by the bunch or the RPC.
  9. Cauliflower - paid by the box.
  10. Mandarin oranges - get paid by the bin of fruit.
  11. Strawberry pickers that paid by the box they pick. 

 

Why is Bill Turley asked to testify concerning wage law legislation at the

California State Senate and the California Assembly?

 
Bill testifying before the California State Senate on piece rate pay for farmworkers

A No B.S. straight-shooter lawyer

Believe it or not, Bill is known for being a no B.S. straight-up lawyer. Besides being known as one of the leading experts on this area of the law in California, one of the reasons why Bill is asked to testify at legislature hearings is because he is known for being straight-forward and blunt. He is known for being no B.S., with no lawyer-talk, no double-talk.

 

Piece rate workers must still be paid at least minimum wage for all time that they work

Under California law and California Wage Order 14 you must be paid at least the minimum wage for all time that you work. 
 
In order to do this, the company must document your work time. That is, the time that you start your shift and the time that you end your shift. If the company is not documenting all of the time that you're working - then you're probably owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and penalties. 
 
In addition, the company must also document when you take your meal breaks/ lunch breaks.
 

Am I supposed to get paid rest breaks if I'm a piece rate farmworker?

California law requires piece-rate employees be separately compensated for rest-break periods at an amount not less than the minimum wage. Cal. Lab. Code Section 226.2; Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, LP, 215 Cal. App. 4th 36, 44-45 (2013); Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 216 Cal. App. 4th 864, 872, 157 Cal. Rptr. 3d 212 (2013).
 
Under 226.2 you must be compensated for rest breaks at the higher of your regular rate of pay or the minimum wage. California Labor Code Section 226.2(a)(3)(A).
 
"Compliance [with this requirement] cannot be determined by averaging hourly compensation." Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 216 Cal. App. 4th 864, 872, 157 Cal. Rptr. 3d 212 (2013). Rather, "employees [must] be compensated at the minimum wage for each hour worked." Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, LP, 215 Cal. App. 4th 36, 44-45 (2013) (citing Armenta v. Osmose, Inc., 135 Cal. App. 4th 314, 323 (2005)).
 
California Labor Code Section 226.2 requires employers to pay separately for rest breaks for piece rate workers.
 
I know California Labor Code Section 226.2 very well because I testified before the California State Senate on California Labor Code Section 226.2.
 

What is non-productive time?

“Non-productive time” means time under the employer’s control, exclusive of rest and recovery periods, that is not directly related to the activity being compensated on a piece-rate basis.  California Labor Code Section 226.2(a)(1). 
 
Stated in not quite so legal terms, if you are paid a piece rate to pick grape, for instance. You must be paid for the time that it takes you to walk through the fields, the time it takes to clean up any tools, the time you are talking to the boss, the time that you are in meetings.  This is all called non-productive time.

You must be paid for all down time (non-productive time)

Piece-rate farm workers must also be paid separately and at least at the state’s minimum wage for time on the job when they’re not picking fruit because of weather delays, training, meetings and travel between orchards. It’s generally referred to as down time or non-productive time.
 
If you have to move equipment between rows or between field, this is non-productive time that must be paid. If you have to fix equipment of clean equipment, this is non-productive time that must be paid.
 

What if the non-productive time is only a few minutes a day?

You must still be paid to the time. Even if the time is a short period of time.

Even 2 minutes per shift in unpaid time adds up to thousands of dollars (this is HUGE, don’t miss this)

In the recent Troester California Supreme Court case, a worker was unpaid for about two (2) minutes per shift. The California Supreme Court held that the company must pay for that 2 minutes per shift. The wages and penalties owed to the worker ended up being thousands of dollars. All based upon about 2 minutes a shift. Troester v. Starbucks Corp., 5 Cal. 5th 829, 845 (2018). I talk about the Troester case more later in this article.

Examples of non-productive time that you must be paid for

Here are some examples of non-productive time that you must be paid for under California wage law: 

1. Riding in a company vehicle before your work starts if it is mandatory that you ride in the vehicle.

2. Traveling between fields or orchards during the work day. This time must be paid, even if you're allowed to ride in your own vehicle or a co-workers vehicle. 

3. Meetings, safety meetings.

4. Time spent waiting to work. For example, if equipment breaks down, you must be paid for waiting for it to be repaired or maintained. 

5. Time spent walking to and from the field and/or orchards where you work. 

6. Cleaning equipment, clippers, bins, ladders, etc. 

 

What has to be on my pay stub if I am a piece rate worker?

California has very strict pay stub laws. The reason for these laws is to make it so you can easily see if you’re being cheated out of being paid the wages that you earn.
If you’re a piece rate worker, the following must be on your pay stub:
 
1.  Your piece rate wages must be on your pay stub. That is, the number of piece-rate units earned by you and any applicable piece rate.
 
2. The total hours that you worked.
 
3. Your net wages earned.
 
4.  Your gross wages earned.
 
5.  Your name and the last 4 digits or your social security number.
 
6.  The name and address of your employer.
 
7.  All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period.
 
8.  The number of hours worked at each hourly rate by you.
 
9.  All of your non-productive time and the rate you are being paid for the non-productive time.
 
10.  The time for rest periods and applicable hourly rate for your rest periods.
 
11.  All deductions.
 
12.  The inclusive dates of the period for which you are being paid.
 
California Labor Code Sections 226 and 226.2
 
 

How much am I owed for each pay stub violation for each pay period? (Up to $4,000)

You are owed fifty dollars ($50) for the initial pay period in which a violation occurs and one hundred dollars ($100) per employee for each violation in a subsequent pay period, not to exceed an aggregate penalty of four thousand dollars ($4,000). California Labor Code Section 226(e)(1).
 
And you are entitled to an award of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. California Labor Code Section 226(e)(1).
 

If you're piece rate farmworker and non-productive time is NOT listed on your pay stub, you're owed wages, pay stub penalties and waiting time penalties! 

The recent Troester California Supreme Court case held that if you aren’t paid for all time worked - even as little as 1-2 minutes a day - then it is a violation of California law.
 
If you are a field worker, then you have to walk between your car or the company bus or van to where you are picking fruit or vegetables then this is non-productive time that must be paid.
 

How can not getting paid for 2 minutes of time each day add up to thousands of dollars for farm workers?

Suppose you work for 6 weeks for a company as a picker. You have 2 minutes of unpaid time each day.  Just the time walking in and out of the fields or orchards each day to start your shift, going to the bathroom and back and at the end of the shift - is going to be at least 2 minutes.
 
With most farms - the fields are BIG. 
 
You work 6 days a week and you are paid every week. You earn on average $100 a day. Here is how much money you are owed:
 
 36 shifts x 2 minutes = 72 minutes
 
 $10.50 x 72 minutes = $12.60
 
You are owed $50 for the first pay stub violation and $100 for the next 5 pay period violations, for a total of $550 for pay stub violations.
 
You are owed 30 days waiting time penalties.
 
 $100 x 30 days = $3,000  
 
You have the following PAGA violations:
 
 Labor Code Sections violations:

226 (pay stubs); 204b (not paying wages owed every pay period; 201 or 202 (not paying all wages at time of termination; 203 (waiting time penalties; 226.2 (piece rate);  1185, 1194, 1194.2, 1197, and 1197.1 (unpaid minimum wages); 510, 1194, and 1198 (unpaid overtime wages); 204, 205.5, 206 (claims for the failure to timely or otherwise pay wages during employment).
 
 Wage Order 14 violations
 
3(A) (overtime); 4(A) minimum wages, 7(A) (records, 7(C) pay stub.
 
This is 19 separate PAGA violations.
 
You are entitled to $25 per pay period for the initial violations and $50 per pay period for subsequent violations.  
 
 19 x $25 = $475
 
 19 x $50 x 5 pay periods = $4,750 
 
   $    475
 +$ 4,750
   $ 5,225 in potential PAGA penalties

Total wages and penalties you may be owed
 
 $     12.60   unpaid wages
 $   550.00   pay stub violations
 $ 3,000.00  waiting time penalties
 $ 5,225.00  potential PAGA penalties
 $ 8,787.60  Total wages and penalties   
 
All of this for not getting paid for $2 each day.  Suppose you only got less than half of this. Say, $4,000. What could you do with $4,000? Think about it. This is why it is usually worth it to bring a wage claim in California. Because California has powerful wage laws.
 
 

Questions or if you need help right now?

Call us at 619-304-1000  - If you call after regular business hours, when you leave a message, be sure to repeat your name and telephone number twice, so we get it correctly. And be sure to indicate whether it's okay if we respond by text.
 
Text us at 858-281-8008 - Be sure and put "new wage case" in your text.
 
Or leave us a message on this webpage.
  

 

 
This article isn't legal advice
 
These discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. These testimonials, endorsements, photos and/or discussions do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation. Every case is different. There are any number of reasons why class actions are not certified, not won and/or PAGA actions are not successful.
 
Just because we have gotten great results in so many other unpaid wage cases, doesn't guarantee in particular result in other cases. Including, your wage case. Every case is different. 
William Turley
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“When I seek out professional advice, I don’t want B.S., I want it straight up. I figure you do also.”
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