Colorado to launch online portal to help ag industry comply with labor laws

Last year, Colorado lawmakers passed sweeping legislation meant to improve working conditions for farm and ranch employees. Senate Bill 21-87 established minimum standards for workplace housing, gave workers collective bargaining rights and directed the state to create and enforce overtime protections.

While farmworkers’ advocates argue that the overtime rules don’t go far enough — and are suing the state as a result — large agricultural producers warned that those and other provisions of the law would lead to over-regulation and devastate businesses.

Now, state lawmakers hope a new online resource will benefit both employers and workers in Colorado’s agriculture industry, which generates more than $7 billion in sales each year.

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House Bill 22-1308, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law Friday, establishes an online portal where workers can learn about their rights under state and federal laws, and business owners can make sure they’re complying with requirements. The portal must be available in English and Spanish and will include links to relevant state and federal agencies, mental health resources, information on workplace safety, and a calculator tool to help employers determine how much to pay workers based on their schedule.

“This bill is designed to build a stronger workplace relationship between employers and employees by centralizing critical workplace information, including mental health resources and updated labor regulations,” Rep. Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat who sponsored the bill with Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail, said in an April statement. “Agriculture is a critical industry for Colorado and our goal is to streamline the outreach process so employers and employees can work together to build safer workplaces for everyone.”

The signed version of HB-1308 provides $100,000 to the Department of Agriculture to establish the online portal.

In addition to the portal, the sponsors’ original bill would have also created a “workplace improvement” program to award grants to agricultural employers and organizations that serve farm and ranch workers or employers. The money could have been used to ensure compliance with labor laws, improve workplaces and working conditions, or educate agricultural workers about their legal rights. The grant program was scrapped from the bill in the Senate, however.

HB-1308 was supported by the Colorado Farm Bureau, which advocates for the state’s agricultural industry, and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which represents family farms and ranches in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

HB-1308 passed the Senate on May 9 by a vote of 31-4, with the “no” votes all belonging to Republicans: Sens. Chris Holbert of Douglas County, Paul Lundeen of Monument, Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs and Jim Smallwood of Parker. In the House on May 10, the vote was 51-14. All 14 “no” votes came from Republicans.

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