What Is It About California Shepherds?

I saw this by accident on the California FAQ on the state minimum wage.

1. Q. What is the minimum wage?
A. Effective January 1, 2008, the minimum wage in California is $8.00 per hour. It will increase to $9.00 per hour effective July 1, 2014, and to $10.00 per hour effective January 1, 2016.

For sheepherders, however, effective July 1, 2002, the minimum wage was set at $1,200.00 per month. On January 1, 2007, this wage increased to a minimum monthly salary of $1,333.20, and on January 1, 2008, it increased again to a minimum monthly salary of $1,422.52. Effective July 1, 2014, the minimum monthly salary for sheepherders will be $1600.34. Effective January 1, 2016, the minimum monthly salary for sheepherders will be $1777.98. Wages paid to sheepherders may not be offset by meals or lodging provided by the employer. Instead, there are provisions in IWC Order 14-2007, Sections 10(F), (G) and (H) that apply to sheepherders with respect to monthly meal and lodging benefits required to be provided by the employer.


What the hell?  The new minimum wage is absolutely appropriate to every industry in California except sheepherding?  It would be interesting to see the political process that led to this one narrow special rule.  The state Speaker of the House's brother-in-law is probably in the sheep business.

This kind of crap is frustrating as hell for me.  We have a labor model that is generally not even considered when politicians are setting labor law, and thus compliance causes us fits.  I would love special labor exemptions for my workers as well, but I don't have any pull in Sacramento.

Postscript:  While most folks think of the minimum wage as a restriction on employers, it is just as much a restriction on workers as well.  I am glad to see the California site acknowledge this:

3. Q. May an employee agree to work for less than the minimum wage?
A. No.


  1. Onlooker from Troy:

    Employee follow up question: But what if I can't get a job at that wage, but can for a lesser one?

    Answer: Tough sh!t punk, we know what's good for you and are looking out for your welfare.

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    There has long been lower minimum wages in both state and federal law for agricultural workers and for waiters/waitresses. Though in the case of waiters/waitresses, employers are supposed to make up the difference between their income and the normal minimum wage if tips fail to fill that gap.

  3. xtmar:

    I would suspect that the reason shepherds have their own set of minimum wages is the following:

    Shepherds are required to live near their flocks at all times, so they end up living in RVs or tents near their flocks, and working highly irregular hours, so it's easier to pay them a salary, rather than an hourly wage. However, since they're not exempt workers under the FLSA, they would normally need to be paid hourly, except that they got an exemption put in place.

  4. Canvasback:

    Maybe the bennies count as compensation. In "The Making of a Country Lawyer" Gerry Spence mentions a sheep herder tradition of "grooming" a young ewe to help relieve the tedium of long weeks on the trail.

  5. kidmugsy:

    That's very decent pay for the collie, but what does the shepherd get paid?

  6. Craig Loehle:

    There was a grocery near me that had many disabled employees, mostly mental disabilities (e.g., if they broke a jar they might start to cry). Such employees are not likely worth the minimum wage. They were probably subsidized but the point remains that such people are priced out of the market by a minimum wage as are young people.
    The whole idea of a minimum wage is so absurd that it leads to a need for special exemptions for sheepherders.

  7. Incunabulum:

    Sheepherders were somehow the only ones with enough clout to be able to point out that the hourly wage limits/requirements that CA has made 'standard' don't work for their industry.
    Freaking strange state.

  8. Incunabulum:

    Undoubtedly this is why they fought so hard to get the exemption - still doesn't explain why *they* get one to accommodate their work but everyone else is expected to change their work to accommodate the law.

  9. Andrew_M_Garland:

    Economist Robert Murphy discusses minimum wages in detail. It is worth a careful read.

    I note that the people employed at the old and new minimum wage may not be the same people. If an employer must hire at a minimum of $10.10/hr, he will hire more efficient people who could get the higher wage anyway. A later review may show that "the number of jobs at the minimum wage" has changed little, but the prior people are now unemployed, forgotten, and economically injured.

    === ===
    [edited] There is a second, and independent, problem: Raising the minimum wage might represent a drastic harm to the most vulnerable and desperate workers if the specific employees who would be working for $10.10 an hour are different from those who would be working for $7.25 an hour. What could happen is that the higher wage would attract new workers into the labor pool, allowing firms to become pickier and, thus, to overlook the least-productive workers, who would remain unemployed or lose their jobs to more-highly-skilled workers.
    === ===


  10. markm:

    The minimum sheepherder salaries seem to each be be very close to the minimum wage times the average number of hours in a week for 40 hour per week workers. I suspect that this is an exception that was written into CA law about a century ago when the minimum wage was first enacted. Sheepherders (at least then, I don't know if it's still true) camp out with their herds and so are on the job site 24x7, and are expected to jump out of their cot immediately if something is upsetting the sheep. But I think that typically the sheep need much less than 40 hours per week of attention, so the job is mostly lazing around while watching and listening for something to happen. So way back then (when sheep ranching was a significant part of the CA economy), the legislature established a formula setting the minimum wage for sheepherders as the equivalent of 40 hours/week all year round, and they're still using it.

    It would be much more fair if this had been established as a rule for all jobs with similar schedules. But if the legislature establishes general rules that cover special cases they haven't even heard about yet, then there's no need for all of the others to come begging for special treatment. They don't get wined and dined by lobbyists. They don't get so many brib - I mean campaign contributions. And when the voters throw them out, they don't have cushy jobs as lobbyists waiting for them.

    Remember, the most powerful interest group for any body of elected politicians is the politicians themselves...

  11. Mondak:

    Yeah - I can confirm this as well.

    There are a bunch of other interesting caveats related to sheep herding in CA written into other areas as well. They have usage rights to BLM land (and even seem to be the one carve out to LA Department of Water and Power water rights related to that land) that continue forever AS LONG AS THEY USE THE LAND EVERY YEAR. So to keep the associated rights, you will likely see herds every year even if they are losing money on the sheep themselves.

  12. sjutte350:

    Sheepherding is a business that involves staying with the sheep
    for days and weeks at a time, often times.
    The sheep graze in remote pastures that aren’t easy to get into an out
    of, and you have to tend the flock 24/7, so sheep herding is not really shift
    work. You can’t go to work and go home
    at the ned of the day. You’re living in
    a tent, on the pasturelands, tending the flocks.

    You can’t pay that guy by the hour, because he’s not working
    a 40 hour work week. He can’t.

    I’m sure the sheep herding lobby in California went to the
    legislature and said “dude, we can’t pay ur guys by the hour, so we’ll be in
    violation of the minimum wage codes right off the bat!” so the legislature made
    an exception for sheep herders, and allowed their minimum wage to be a monthly
    salary (which appears to be somewhat close to a full-time job at minimum wage).

    It actually makes sense, if you’ve got to have a minimum
    wage, you’re going to have to make exceptions for odd jobs like sheep