New California law requires ranchers to pay $14,000 a month to these workers

Beth Torres

No kidding: This California law may bankrupt grazing companies and put public safety at risk during wildfire season

Starting next year, a California labor law will force goat grazing companies to pay an estimated $14,000 a month to each of their goat herder employees.

According to the California Farm Bureau Federation, this 350% increase in labor costs will effectively put some ranchers and most goat grazing companies out of business.

Even more concerning is the fact that the law will increase the likelihood of devastating property damage and loss of human life during wildfire season.

How goats protect California from wildfires

In 2020 alone, wildfires cost the state between $5 billion and $9 billion in insured losses, not to mention human injuries and loss of life. In 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom authorized a landmark $536 million wildfire spending package to implement measures to suppress wildfires.

Goat grazing companies provide a valuable public safety service to wildfire-prone California. Goats are voracious eaters of the grasses and vegetation that fuel the state’s wildfires.

The Sierra Club says goats are ideal for clearing large swaths of overgrown weeds and grasses. They are sure-footed and can reach areas of rough terrain that are challenging for humans.

They are safer than prescribed burns or machine methods for brush removal, both of which can spark uncontrolled fires.

These four-legged firefighters are also a natural alternative to chemical brush removal. Across the state, government agencies, utility companies, large landowners, and fire departments have employed herds of chomping goats to create firebreaks to protect communities, homes, and lives.

So why is California putting goats (and goat ranchers) out of a job?

The issue stems from a change in the labor law that will require ranchers to pay hourly wages and overtime to their goat herders.

Currently, the California Employment Development Department (EDD) allows goat grazing companies to pay goat herders a monthly salary, which is approximately $4,000 a month. In addition, employers pay for their workers’ food, housing, and phone service costs.

When the new ruling takes effect starting January 2024, employers will be forced to pay their herders an hourly wage plus overtime. Since herders must stay with their herd 24-hours a day, the labor costs for ranchers will skyrocket.

The California Farm Bureau Federation says this means ranchers will have to pay their herders an astonishing $14,000 a month. This increase is so huge that ranchers cannot afford to absorb it.

Nor can they pass the massive increase along to their customers, who will simply drop the goat grazing service in favor of less expensive (and possibly more dangerous) brush abatement measures.

Proponents of the new labor ruling claim that it will protect the rights of the goat herders, many of whom are temporary farm workers from Peru. Ranchers, however, say it will cause goat herders to lose their jobs as grazing companies will be forced to shut down.

In this video from the Bay Area’s KRON 4, the owner of a goat grazing company explains how the new ruling will likely drive his business to close and into bankruptcy:

What do you think of California’s new labor law?

It seems like this is an example of a California law that is a lose-lose for both small business owners and public safety. What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to let us know in the comments section.

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