Polis signs bill giving agricultural workers new protections

By: - June 25, 2021 4:45 pm
SB-87 bill signing

Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 21-87 at the Colorado Capitol on June 25, 2021. (Courtesy of Colorado Senate Democrats)

Advocates for Colorado’s agricultural workers rejoiced Friday as Gov. Jared Polis signed sweeping legislation that grants those workers new rights.

Senate Bill 21-87 extends many of the same worker protections that already exist for other industries to agriculture.

“SB87 will only strengthen our local food system and local immigrant communities,” Nayda Benitez, an organizer with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said in a Friday statement from a coalition of groups supporting the bill. “When black and brown agricultural workers thrive, so does all of Colorado.”

The new law allows agricultural workers to unionize, requires employers to pay them a minimum wage and starts a rulemaking process to set overtime pay standards. It also provides protection from retaliation for workers who report safety concerns. SB-87’s sponsors, all Democrats, include Sens. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, along with Reps. Karen McCormick of Longmont and Rep. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton.

“Every worker in Colorado, regardless of the industry they labor in, should expect humane treatment and a fair wage,” McCormick said in a statement from Colorado House Democrats. “Improving conditions for farmworkers will modernize our state’s agriculture industry and ensure a sustainable future for it in Colorado.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, community advocates known as promotores — part of a statewide coalition called Project Protect Food Systems — brought public health resources to farming and ranching communities across Colorado.

“We quickly saw how the lack of legal protections or rights meant farm workers were being treated as expendable while doing essential work to keep our state fed,” Fatuma Emmad, co-convener of Project Protect Food Systems and a Denver-based farmer, said in Friday’s statement.

Advocates working with Project Protect joined with labor groups and immigrant advocates to get behind SB-87. They were opposed by industry organizations representing farmers and ranchers, who said the bill’s new requirements would decimate their businesses at a difficult time for Colorado agriculture.

SB-87 passed in the House by a 40-24 vote, with most Democrats voting in favor and Republicans opposed. Rep. Donald Valdez, a Democrat from La Jara, was the sole member of his party to vote against the bill. In the Senate, SB-87 passed on a vote of 19-15 along party lines.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.