Charge to the Sheepherders Wage Board

During the year 2000, the Commission convened a wage board to review the adequacy of the minimum wage. As part of that review, the Commission directed the wage board to consider whether it was appropriate to eliminate certain exemptions that existed from the requirement that employer's pay the minimum wage. Wage Order 14 contains a total exemption from all of its provisions for persons employed as sheepherders. After the wage board concluded its review of the minimum wage, the Commission held several public hearings concerning the adequacy of the minimum wage. At those hearings, there was extensive testimony presented by representatives of sheepherders urging the Commission to eliminate the minimum wage exemption and proposing the creation of a special minimum wage covering sheepherders. Representatives of sheep ranchers testified in support of a continued exemption from the minimum wage for sheepherders.

After reviewing the testimony regarding the minimum wage in general, the Commission voted to increase the state minimum wage and to eliminate nearly all of the remaining exemptions from the minimum wage that existed in the Commission's wage orders. It deferred action on the issue of sheepherders, as it was desirous of considering matters impacting upon the work hours and working conditions if sheepherders in a more comprehensive fashion, in addition to that of the minimum wage.

Following an investigation the Commission determined that the wages paid to sheepherders may be inadequate to supply the cost of proper living and that the hours and working conditions of sheepherders may be prejudicial to their health and welfare. The Commission therefore voted to convene a wage board to determine whether the total exemption in Wage Order 14 affecting sheepherders should be eliminated.

It is your responsibility to recommend to the Commission whether it should adopt regulations affecting the wage, hours and working conditions of sheepherders. In so doing, you should consider whether there is any reason to continue to exempt sheepherders from the minimum wage obligation and whether sheepherders should be covered by any or all of the other provisions of Wage Order 14 governing hours and working conditions, including those which require the payment of overtime compensation.

Testimony presented to the Commission during the course of its investigation indicates that sheepherders often work in extreme isolation in remote geographical locations for protracted periods of time; that their basic rudiments of daily living, including food, shelter, health care, communication, and documents enabling those who are foreign nationals to be in this country, are in the hands of their employer. You may consider whether the unique working conditions of sheepherders require the establishment of special protective rules for that occupation.

In addition, testimony presented to the Commission indicates that many, though not all, sheepherders are employed through the federal H2A visa program. While the wages and working conditions established by that program mandate certain minimum labor standards, such standards may not be adequate to protect the working conditions of sheepherders employed in California. Moreover, under the current exemption in Wage Order 14, the wages, hours, and working conditions of California sheepherders who are not employed through the H2A program are totally unregulated. Therefore, while the labor standards mandated by the H2A program may be relevant to your deliberations, they are not determinative.

Title 8, California Code of Regulations 11534 provides in part that the wage board shall consider such data as is submitted to it by the Commission, and that any additional information necessary to the deliberations of the wage board shall be furnished by the Commission upon request of the chairperson of the wage board, insofar as feasible. The information provided by the Commission will include transcripts of testimony, information regarding the federal H2A visa program, and other documents previously presented to the Commission. The Commission requests that the wage board review these materials prior to the date of its first meeting.