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UFW: WA high court ruling requiring pay for seasonal farm workers’ down time could mean millions over time

United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez issued the following statement from the union’s Keene, Calif. headquarters after the Washington state Supreme Court ruled farm workers receiving piece rate pay must be compensated for “down time” tasks.

The Supreme Court ruling is a landmark victory for all Washington state farm workers that over time could mean millions of dollars to help alleviate the poor pay and poverty they endure. The state high court ruled when piece-rate farm workers are performing additional work that is not paid by a piece-rate, they must be paid at least the state minimum wage or any contractually agreed upon wage rate, whichever is higher.

The company, Dovex Fruit Co. of Wenatchee, Wash., claimed its piece rates compensated workers for time spent on other tasks such as traveling between fields, attending mandatory meetings and hauling equipment. The court rejected that argument on a 5-2 vote.

The decision came in a case in which attorneys for the UFW collaborated on an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief along with Migrant Clinicians Network that highlighted farm workers’ exclusion from the protections of employment laws and the importance of compensating workers to protect them from wage theft.

UFW attorneys submitted an amicus brief in 2015 in another successful Washington Supreme Court case regarding piece-rate workers, Demetrio v. Sakuma Bros. Farms Inc. State law requires workers to be provided with rest breaks and to receive their “regular pay” for those breaks.  The court held “regular pay” during rest breaks for piece rate workers means they must be paid separately for that time and compensated based on their average hourly earnings on their piece rate wages or the state minimum wage, whichever is higher.

Background: The United Farm Workers of America is the nation’s first enduring and largest farm workers union. The UFW’s Hermiston, Oregon office supports the 1,000 men and women who are protected by union contracts in Oregon and Washington state. These vineyard, dairy and feedlot workers enjoy some of the best wages and benefits in the Pacific Northwest. The UFW has also been active in advocating for all farm workers in this region for more than 30 years, achieving important legal progress such as requiring cholinesterase testing for pesticide applicators and legislative victories such as ensuring farm workers are not excluded from minimum wage protections, unemployment insurance and other guarantees most other working people take for granted.