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Labor rules impact producers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

According to the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), wage increases and other H-2A program changes for sheepherders in California and Colorado are planned for the year 2022.  

“Planned wage increases for H-2A herders in California and Colorado in 2022 will certainly be felt by producers in those states. But, they might simply be the first dominoes to fall in an economically challenging game for sheep producers throughout the West,” states ASI in a recent newsletter.  

H-2A program changes in California 

In the letter, ASI notes California passed AB1066 in 2016, an overtime law for agricultural employers with 26 or more employees, which took effect in 2019. In January 2022, this law will be extended to all employers, including those with 25 employees or less. 

“This will take a drastic toll on sheep producers in the state of California as it requires pay for a 168-hour workweek as the law considers herders to be on call 24 hours a day,” explains ASI. 

ASI further notes, representatives from the California Wool Growers Association have proposed a 48-hour workweek in line with federal H-2A guidelines in response to this change.  

Until this proposal can be approved, California Sheep Producer Ryan Indart explains adding a trailer bill using money from the state budget may be a beneficial temporary solution. 

Following Indart’s suggestion of this temporary fix, the office of California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins asked the California Wool Growers Association to provide information on additional labor costs to producers, which are estimated at $4.6 million in 2022 and $8.3 million by 2025, according to ASI.  

“Through the trailer bill, the state would compensate any California sheep producers who employs H-2A herders for these additional costs,” writes ASI. 

H-2A program changes in Colorado 

A little closer to home, Colorado SB87 is also planned to go into effect at the beginning of next year. This bill will increase H-2A herder pay from $1,727 per month to $2,060 per month, according to ASI.  

In addition to the pay increase, a few other regulations included in the bill may be an issue for producers in the Centennial State. 

“The bill also requires herders be taken into town at least once every three weeks and provides language for ‘key provider access,’ creating a boatload of concerns about access to private property,” notes ASI. 

Colorado Wool Growers Association Member Steve Raftopoulos explains in ASI’s newsletter the requirement to take herders into town might be pretty difficult for producers since sheepherders spend the majority of the summer in remote areas, and the time required to take them to town could add up to a full-time job.  

Raftopoulos also points out many herders would rather have their bosses do their shopping and banking for them. With this, he explains the Colorado Wool Growers Association is attempting to address this issue by going through the rule-making process and allowing workers to waive the requirement. 

ASI notes, “Provisions of the bill are set for the state’s rule-making process, which was scheduled to begin in mid-August and run through the fall. This means producers will have just a short amount of time to adjust to new regulations before they take effect in early 2022.” 

Hannah Bugas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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