Washington judge rules ag not exempt from overtime rules

From Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

Today, the Washington State Supreme Court issued its decision concerning the constitutionality of RCW 49.46.130(2)(g), the statute exempting agricultural workers from the overtime pay requirement set out in the Washington Minimum Wage Act, ch. 49.46 RCW. In a 5-4 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court sided with the class of affected agricultural workers and held the statute violates article 1, section 12 (the privileges and immunity clause) of the Washington State Constitution. The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings, i.e. to determine how much back overtime is owed the class and attorney fees due.

On a positive side, the Supreme Court said the issue of retroactively was not before the court so this decision is limited in its scope, but we will need guidance more from the attorneys on this case about its impacts to agriculture. (See footnote 4 of majority opinion on page 15). My initial takeaway is that from now on, agriculture will have to pay overtime to their employees.

I am very concerned about language in the concurring opinion about farmworker labor issues: “Farmworkers across our state and our nation labor for subpoverty wages under dangerous working conditions to supply food for our tables. But since the 1930s, they have been excluded from many labor protections guaranteed to virtually all workers in other industries. Today we face a global pandemic, and while many others stay home, farmworkers continue to go to work because they are recognized as essential. But they go to work on unequal terms. They deserve better.”

Here is a link to the decision. http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/962677.pdf