Agricultural interests have poured $420,000 in recent days into a push to unseat Bakersfield Democrat Rudy Salas Jr., who voted for a landmark bill in 2016 granting farm workers overtime.
Justin Mendes, a Hanford city councilman, is the Republican challenger in one of the few Assembly seats in California where Republicans could win a seat held by a Democrat.
Salas had almost $400,000 in his campaign account in the most recent campaign filing, four times more than Mendes.
But like many contested legislative races, spending by independent campaigns, which are not limited by restrictions on the size of donations, is exceeding what the candidates are spending.
The state’s major farm groups including Western Growers, the California Farm Bureau, and dairy operators are funding the campaign group, Family Farmers Working for a Better California. Each lobbied to kill the 2016 bill granting farm workers overtime, contending it would damage California’s massive farming industry.
Its television ad airing in Bakersfield blasts Salas for voting for a gas tax increase, supporting high-speed rail, taking foreign trips, and approving a new legislative office building. The spot makes no mention of the overtime vote.
The United Farm Workers Union had spent decades working to pass legislation granting farm workers the right to overtime, to be phased in starting in 2019. By Jan. 1, 2022, farm workers will be entitled to time and a half after working eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.
All Republicans but one* opposed the bill. Salas was one of 43 Democrats, plus the Republican, in the 80-seat Assembly who voted for it. Although he is a paying a price for that vote in the form of the ag-funded television ads, he also is collecting a dividend.
The United Farm Workers union is knocking on doors for Salas, whose own ads prominently declare that he supported farm worker overtime.
“The UFW has pulled out everything (for Salas),” said consultant Richie Ross, who represents Salas and the UFW, and lobbied for the overtime bill. “It is a real old-fashioned Cesar Chavez campaign.”
Ag interests funded a similar campaign in 2012 campaign that helped unseat then-Assembly Democrat Mike Allen of Napa after Allen carried an earlier version of the farm workers overtime bill. Allen’s replacement, Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Marin County Democrat, failed to vote on the 2016 version that became law.
Meanwhile, oil companies have spent $282,000 in a separate independent effort to help reelect Salas. He has been supportive of oil in various ways.
Update: One Republican voted for the farm worker overtime bill.