In this July 27, 2012, file photo, workers harvest wild blueberries at a farm in Appleton. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

State lawmakers heard nearly five hours of testimony Tuesday on a series of bills designed to ensure that agricultural workers have access to overtime protections and collective bargaining rights, and that they earn no less than the Maine minimum wage.

Though many farmers testified that they pay their workers well over the Maine minimum wage of $13.80 an hour, the law requires them to pay the hourly federal minimum wage of $7.25.

“Please ask yourselves, why are the hours that farm workers toil to feed us worth less than those of other working people? There’s no good answer to that question,” said House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, the lead sponsor of two of the bills.

Some farmers and many immigrants’ rights organizations said they see the proposed legislation as a way to improve working conditions.

But farmer Jeffrey Spear estimates that the proposed overtime policy would cost him an additional $125,000 a year or he said he would have to cut workers’ hours.

“This will put Maine farmers out of business and the farm workers without a job,” he told members of the Legislature’s labor committee. “If you guys do vote for this and it does pass, you can tell Hannaford, Good Shepherd and Maine school universities they can all take down their signs that say, ‘We support local farms,’ because there won’t be any.”

Other farmers said they’re worried about the effects of the legislation on their ability to harvest crops during Maine’s short growing season.

Maine Democrats have tried on multiple occasions to pass similar legislation. One measure that would have allowed farm workers to form a union passed the Legislature but failed to gain enough support from state lawmakers to override a veto from Gov. Janet Mills last year.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.