On October 24, 2019
The Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday morning in Olympia concerning Washington’s decades-old exclusion of farm workers from overtime protection, a legacy of the Jim Crow era. The decision could impact overtime pay for over 200,000 farm workers across Washington State. (Español)
In 2016, Columbia Legal Services along with private co-counsel, Marc Cote of Frank, Freed, Subit & Thomas, filed a class action lawsuit, Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, on behalf of workers who allege they were not provided with adequate meal and rest breaks and not paid for all time worked while milking cows at the dairy in Outlook, Washington. In August 2017, a Yakima County Superior Court judge approved a $600,000 settlement in the case for 281 dairy workers.The Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau requested and were granted leave to intervene, so they are now also parties in the case defending against the farmworkers’ challenge. The overtime exclusion claim was not resolved by the settlement and is now before the state’s highest court.
Since 1959, the Legislature has exempted the agricultural industry from the overtime requirement in Washington’s Minimum Wage Act – protections afforded to almost all other workers engaged in dangerous occupations. As detailed in one of the five supportive briefs by amici curiae, the state exemption was directly modeled on a federal exemption crafted during the Jim Crow era, when most farm workers in the south were Black and lacked political power. This racially-tinged exclusion was incorporated into Washington law and remains today, affecting Latinx farm workers who make up the vast majority of our agricultural workforce.
“The exclusion of agricultural workers from overtime pay violates the Washington State Constitution by giving special treatment to agricultural employers and discriminating against Latinx farm workers,” said Lori Isley, Deputy Director of Advocacy at Columbia Legal Services, who will be making the oral argument. “It’s time for Washington State to end this vestige of racial discrimination, which denies farm workers fair and equal treatment under the law.”
“Overtime laws are meant to protect workers from long hours that are harmful to their health. Employees in factories and other dangerous industries are protected under our state’s overtime law.
There is no reason to exclude farm workers from this vital health and safety protection,” said co-counsel Marc Cote.
Lori Isley, CLS Deputy Director of Advocacy
509-575-5593 EXT:217, firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlie McAteer, CLS Communications