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Farmworkers Could Get Overtime Pay Under WA Bill

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Farmworkers can work 80-hour weeks, but aren't eligible for overtime pay. (David/Adobe Stock)
Farmworkers can work 80-hour weeks, but aren't eligible for overtime pay. (David/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
March 26, 2021

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington state farmworkers could be poised to receive overtime pay under a measure in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 5172 would phase in, starting with overtime pay for more than 55 hours of work per week in 2022 and would be completely implemented for more than 40 hours of work in 2024.

Marciano Sanchez, union organizer with Familias Unidas por la Justicia, said people work as much as 80 hours per week, sometimes for minimum wage, and come home exhausted.

"Especially having to work in the summer when temperatures get to 100 degrees sometimes," said Sanchez. "People aren't supposed to be out there 10 to 12 hours a day working that kind of conditions."

Senate Bill 5172 originally was designed to protect farmers from liability for paying farmworkers because of a state Supreme Court decision that ruled denying agricultural laborers overtime was unconstitutional. As a compromise, lawmakers have agreed to phase in overtime pay on farms.

The bill is scheduled for an executive session today in the House Committee on Labor and Workplace Standards.

Joe Kendo, government affairs director with the Washington State Labor Council, said agriculture workers were excluded from overtime protections in federal law during New Deal negotiations, and the exclusion has racist roots.

Southern states wanted to carve out these workers because most of them were Black. Kendo noted that the bill isn't just about putting farmworkers on equal footing with other workers.

"It really is, fundamentally, I think, a health and safety and public-health issue as much as it is a wage-equity issue," said Kendo.

Farmers opposed to the bill have argued it will be hard to pay overtime wages because farms work on tight margins and it could mean they have to cut workers' hours.

There are about 100,000 farmworkers in Washington state.

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