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Central Valley farmworker Lourdes Cardenas before heading to the fields.

Central Valley farmworker Lourdes Cardenas before heading to the fields.

By Jazmine Ulloa
Los Angeles Times

Before the roosters in her backyard start to crow, Lourdes Cardenas rouses from bed, dresses for work in a worn T-shirt and jeans and packs a lunch under the dim fluorescent lights of her sparse kitchen.

For more than 11 years, Cardenas, 53, has picked grapes, peaches and strawberries in fields outside of Fresno. The hard labor makes her muscles ache. The sun casts spells of exhaustion, and the nearly $25,000 she brings in a year — cutting vines 10 hours a day, six days a week — barely makes ends meet.

“We live paycheck to paycheck,” she says. “We can’t save. We can’t provide a better future for ourselves or our families.”

Gov. Jerry Brown made history on Monday after he signed legislation that will increase overtime pay for hundreds of thousands of California farmworkers who, like Cardenas, have been struggling to earn a living wage. Assembly Bill 1066, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), will gradually reduce the 10-hour-day threshold for farmworker overtime starting in 2019. By 2022, workers should be able to earn overtime pay after eight hours of work in a day or 40 in a week.

The decision closed out an intense political battle that dominated the state Capitol. But perhaps no place better captures the frustrations, tensions and emotions that remain over the issue than the San Joaquin Valley Cardenas calls home.

The fight for farmworkers’ rights has roots in this 10,000-square-mile stretch of flatlands, orchards and vineyards, where friction between labor and agricultural interests existed long before the days of Cesar Chavez.

The peak of the labor movement has passed. The agriculture industry has vastly evolved. But in heated discussions at farms and ranches, in homes and labor union offices, old ideas persist, pitting economics against human rights, and the views of employers against those of employees.
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Photo by Jazmine Ulloa