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End OT pay exclusion for ALL farm workers

Urge state representatives to end the racist legacy by passing SB 5172 without amendments


OLYMPIA (April 5, 2021) — Washington would be the first state in the nation to bring the 40-hour work week and overtime pay to all agricultural workers, some of the nation’s lowest-paid workers, under SB 5172, which has been passed by the Senate and two House committees. But agribusiness lobbyists are hoping to amend the bill to weaken its overtime pay protections for certain farm workers.

TAKE A STAND –Please send a message to your Washington state representatives today urging them to support passage of SB 5172 — without amendment — when it comes to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

Farmworkers were exempted from the original federal Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938. This exclusion during the Jim Crow era was needed to secure the votes of Southern Democrats who refused to pass New Deal legislation if Black workers stood to benefit. The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that this exclusion cannot be justified under state law for dairy farm workers. Now, the House of Representatives has an opportunity to end this racist legacy by passing SB 5172 and extending equal protections to all farm workers in Washington state.

SB 5172 would establish a three-year phase-in period of the new requirement that employers pay overtime to agricultural workers. Beginning in January 2022, overtime would be due after 55 hours of work in a week; in January 2023, after 48 hours; and in January 2024, after 40 hours.

Passage of legislation assuring the 40-hour workweek and overtime pay rights for all Washington farm workers has been a priority for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The phase-in compromise on SB 5172 is supported by farmworker advocates, including the United Farm Workers and Familias Unidas por la Justicia. With that phase-in compromise, SB 5172 passed the Senate 37-12 with bipartisan support on March 9.

Dairy workers, unlike other agricultural workers, would immediately be due overtime pay after 40 hours of work in a week, in keeping with the state Supreme Court’s decision in Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, Inc. In that case, the court ruled that dairy workers are due overtime pay “because they worked long hours in conditions dangerous to life and deleterious to their health.” Workers who are parties in that suit could be due back pay and damages, with interest, from DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, pending further action by the trial court.

For the approximately 65,000 agricultural workers and 6,000 growers in Washington who are not parties to the DeRuyter lawsuit, the bill would provide certainty by pre-empting lawsuits for back pay filed after the Supreme Court decision was issued on Nov. 5, 2020.

All Washington residents are urged to send a message to their state representatives urging them to pass SB 5172 without amendment.

EDITOR’S NOTE — California also has approved overtime pay for farm workers. Under its phase-in schedule, larger agricultural employers have to pay overtime after 40 hours/week in 2022, but smaller growers have until 2025 to comply. Under SB 5172 as approved by the Senate, Washington would be the first state in the country to have its overtime pay standard apply to ALL farm workers in 2024.


PREVIOUSLY at The Stand:

March 10 — State Senate approves 40-hour work week for farm workers — Phase-in compromise wins bipartisan support for historic legislation.

March 9 — Legislators can right this historical wrong (by Jeff Johnson) — SSB 5172 is a common-sense solution to a problem rooted in our country’s racist past while creating a mechanism for agricultural employers to absorb the cost of compensating farmworkers for overtime work without jeopardizing their businesses.

Feb. 23 — Support farm workers’ overtime pay, retroactive wages — Amended SB 5172 would protect farm workers’ interests and create certainty for employers.


For additional insight as to why this is so important, watch state Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez explain the consequences of allowing farm workers to be excluded from basic worker protections like overtime pay rights:

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