NewsCovering Colorado


Agriculture Workers' Rights Bill could benefit employees, threatening others chances of work

Many migrant workers are already protected under federal mandated law H-2A
Posted at 6:45 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 20:47:34-04

PUEBLO — At 7:00 am on a Wednesday morning, Grady Grissom heads out to a field in his 1985 Chevy truck to feed his cattle.

Rancho Largo Cattle Company is "14,000 acres in short grass step... 200 cow ranch" that's been in business for about 25 years in Fowler, Colorado.

Fowler sits in Otero County and is ranked among Colorado's top ten poorest counties . Grissom coaches wrestling at a local high school and often hires students to work on the ranch during the summer, teaching them skills they might need if college is not in their futures.

"Ag is unusual in that there is no formal education, so for those kids that want to be in ag, the way that they learn is by getting paid to work," said Grissom.

However, a new Agriculture Workers' Rights bill that is being discussed could make it impossible for Grissom to hire the extra hands.

“The sad thing is, the people it would impact the most are those that they’re trying to help. Those entry level positions in ag, where you’re getting paid to learn, those are gunna go away!” explained Grissom.

Among other regulations, the bill requires that employees on ranches or farms be paid minimum wage, receive health insurance, and get paid overtime on day they work 12 hours or more. The piece of legislation is aimed to provide migrant employees with "basic workplace rights" according to the bill's sponsors, but also impact people like Grissom. He explained that many days he and his employees could work more then 12 hours a day if bad weather is coming and they do not plan to work the rest of the week, or that they cannot take the mandated breaks the bill requires when they are out in the field herding cattle.

However, in a pre-hearing press conference hosted by Project Protect Food Systems in favor of the bill, speakers emphasized that the goal of the bill is to prevent "impacts of racism in our legal system" they say exist "systematically" in Colorado's agriculture industry.

Valerie Collins, an Attorney with Toward Justice Law Firm, is in favor of the bill.

“As a whole, rural communities are really going to benefit from this, cause they can actually afford to go to the grocery store and buy groceries, rather than being forced to go to a food bank because they can’t afford to buy the food that they picked."

Meanwhile, Grissom says “Those legislatures in Denver need to come down here and understand our communities and understand our environment.”

Collins says there is still time for the rhetoric in the bill to change and become more specific.