Proposed WA bill would raise threshold for farmworker overtime
This is the second year that farmworkers are eligible for overtime. Right now, if they work more than 48 hours in a week, they get paid time and half.
Next year, they’ll be the same as everyone else — anything past 40 hours would count as overtime. But new proposed legislation in Olympia is trying to re-negotiate that.
The bill would allow farm owners to push the overtime threshold to 50 hours for a 12-week period, like during peak harvest season.
The bill in the Senate is the one furthest along in the process. More than 1,700 people attended a public hearing on the Senate floor last week, when the bill came before the Labor and Commerce Committee.
Ana Ramirez was among those who spoke at that hearing in opposition to the bill. She said when she went off to college she'd come back home to questions from her parents, and people in their community, about overtime.
“They didn't understand why some of the most essential workers who contribute so greatly to our state's economy were paid the least and didn't receive overtime,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez, who now works as an educator, said changing the rules would mean farm laborers have to work harder than they already do to provide for their families.
“Many farmworker families cannot make ends meet," she said. "Many of their children in our K through 12 system are sent to work in the fields.”
Some farmers say they're struggling under the current overtime rules.
“We'd have to continue to hire more employees,” hop farmer Kyle Shinn said, “because we would not be able to pay overtime. Otherwise, our firm would be upside down and out of business.”
Next year, farm owners will be required to pay overtime for employees that go past 40 hours a week.
Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) chairs the Labor and Commerce committee, which held the meeting. Keiser said when federal fair labors laws first passed in the 1930s, southern lawmakers wanted to have an exemption for farmworkers. At that time, most farmworkers in the south were Black.
“That exemption continued on for 60 years. And we are trying to address that inequity in this state and I think we are making real progress,” Keiser said.
Getting paid overtime for when employees at farms worked over 40 hours was a hard-won battle for farmworkers in Washington and the change is being slowly introduced to reduce the impact on farm owners, Keiser said.
The bill to limit overtime pay is currently in committee in the state Senate. But its sponsors said they don’t expect the measure to make it to the governor’s desk.