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L&I: Dairy workers eligible for overtime starting July 25

All other agricultural workers are eligible beginning Jan. 1, 2022


The following is from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I):

TUMWATER (July 19, 2021) — Dairy workers in Washington can earn overtime pay under a new state law that takes effect on July 25. All other agricultural workers will be eligible beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar filed a class-action suit on behalf of nearly 300 workers of DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, which led to the changes in the overtime law.

Agricultural workers have long been exempt from the state’s Minimum Wage Act overtime requirement, but a group of dairy workers challenged that in a case decided by the Washington State Supreme Court in 2020. In Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, the court ruled there was no reasonable grounds for the dairy workers who brought the lawsuit to be exempt from overtime. The court said they had a constitutional right to protection for health and safety in a dangerous industry.

The new law, ESSB 5172, is the Washington State Legislature’s response to the case. It extends overtime rights to all agricultural workers by removing the agricultural exemption. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries will enforce the new law.

“This well-defined overtime standard for our state’s agricultural workers eliminates ambiguity and extends basic workplace protections to these essential workers,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “When it comes to overtime, the folks who supply the food for our families’ tables will have the same rights as other workers in Washington.”

Next week, dairy workers must be paid overtime after working more than 40 hours in a workweek.


Phasing in overtime for all agriculture workers


To allow non-dairy agricultural employers time to prepare for the changes, the law incrementally reduces the number of hours their employees need to work in a workweek before they are entitled to overtime. Beginning:

●  Jan. 1, 2022, the overtime threshold will be 55 hours
●  Jan. 1, 2023, the threshold will be 48 hours
●  Jan. 1, 2024, the threshold will be 40 hours

The law bars agricultural employees from seeking retroactive payments for overtime worked prior to the law going into effect.


L&I plans extensive outreach


Currently, agricultural workers, including piece-rate workers, must earn at least the state minimum wage, which is $13.69 an hour in 2021. Overtime pay must be at least 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay.

L&I’s Employment Standards program is developing policies that will provide additional guidance and interpretation of the new law. The program is also conducting an extensive outreach and education effort, including webinars (look for “Understanding the Changes in Agricultural Overtime Laws” in the event title dropdown menu).

Employees who believe their right to overtime has been denied can file a complaint with L&I.

There is more information about the law on L&I’s new agricultural overtime web page, including an infographic that highlights the changes in the new law. There is a Spanish version as well.

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