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Aaron Golladay: Overtime back pay spells doom for Washington agriculture economy

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While the COVID pandemic and tax policies are making the headlines from Olympia, farmers and farmworkers have their focus trained on an issue that could devastate Washington’s agricultural economy. A recent state Supreme Court ruling known as the DeRuyter Brothers case did away with a 60-year-old law exempting dairy workers from overtime pay in Washington state. However, this ruling was silent on the issue of back pay and offered no relief or guidance for seasonal or harvest workers. What has filled that vacuum is a bevy of staggering legal suits seeking three years of retroactive overtime back pay claims from farmers across Washington state.

These issues are now casting a long and dangerous shadow over small to mid-size farms. Our state’s agricultural economy needs the legislature to take swift and decisive action to stop this legal onslaught and find a solution that honors farmers and their workers.

To their credit, the Washington state Senate recently passed a bill setting forth a framework for transitioning to overtime hours in the future and providing a “Safe Harbor” to eliminate any obligation related to pay back overtime wages. While “safe harbor” from retroactive back pay claims comes as a welcome development, the bill must […]

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