Washington dairy workers to earn overtime pay

Nov 13, 2020  | 3 min  | Ep4613

Last week, workers and how much they get paid after 40 hours in a week were at the center of a court ruling in Washington State.

Peter Tubbs looks at the implications of the order.

Overtime for agricultural workers is legal in another U.S. state.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled last week that an agricultural exemption on overtime pay for dairy workers who work more than 40 hours is unconstitutional.  The decision was handed down on the grounds that the exemption granted special privileges to agricultural operations.
While the 5-4 ruling was specific to the dairy industry in Washington State, it could end up impacting overtime pay for more than 200,000 farm workers across the state.
The attorney for the plaintiffs released this statement:
Lori Isley, Columbia Legal Services: “We appreciate the Washington Supreme Court’s decision that recognizes that dairy workers have a right to the same protections as other workers in dangerous industries.” 
The Washington State Dairy Federation responded also responded to the court ruling:
“While we believe the court erred in its opinion, this case involves a state constitutional question, and there is no venue to appeal it beyond the state Supreme Court...Our advice is for dairy farmers to begin paying workers time-and-a-half for overtime immediately.”
The ruling makes Washington the sixth state with some kind of requirement to pay overtime to farm workers. The change could be particularly expensive
because many of the crops grown in the Evergreen State - apples, grapes and hops among them - are labor intensive and perishable. Some of these operations also require manual labor for up to 11 months a year.
The minimum wage in Washington is currently $13.50 per hour and is climbing to $13.69 per hour in January of 2021. The new pay rate will push overtime wages to over $20.54 per hour.
Scott Dilley, Washington State Dairy Federation: “If we just took the overtime hours that people had been working and, and pay those at time and a half, uh, it could mean a cost of an additional $40 million a year to the dairy industry. Um, so there's that question. So people are going to have to start figuring out different shifts, um, you know, different rates of pay, how do they, um, and, you know, maybe how do they even, um, you know, save labor through increased technology.” 
Local dairies and state-level agricultural lobbying groups warned the ruling will mean increased labor costs, which could increase the pace of the installation of robotic milking systems that would cut the need for farm labor. 
Scott Dilley, Scott Dilley, Washington State Dairy Federation: “To wake up on a, on a Thursday morning and be told that, you know, the, the thing you've been doing for 60 years is, is wrong, was just, uh, uh, it was disheartening and very surprising, extremely surprising to take a step back.” 
For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs
Producer Contact: peter.tubbs@iowapbs.org
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