Labor groups are calling Washington’s farm worker overtime law a big victory. But some farm workers fear companies can’t afford it and hours will be cut.
SEATTLE – Farm workers in Washington state will be eligible for overtime starting in January.
The new bill was enacted by Gov. Jay Inslee and is what President Joe Biden called a way to put “American farmers on an equal footing” with the rest of the workforce.
However, many critics say the problem is not as clear as it seems.
“It’s nice to know you’re getting paid a little more now; you recognize the work that people do out there in the fields, ”said a farm worker whom we call“ Mari ”, who did not want to reveal her identity because she has many friends and relatives who still work there. ‘Agriculture.
The mother of five says overtime pay is a small step forward for an industry that relies on manual labor.
“My husband fell from a ladder,” said Mari. “I got pregnant twice with my children while picking (apples).”
“I was pregnant, but at the time nobody cared. We needed the money, so we were just going to choose, ”Mari continued.
Farm and dairy workers have historically been excluded from overtime regulations in Washington state. Recently, the state’s dairy workers sued their former employer and won in court – a legal victory that paved the way for Senate Bill 5172 to be passed.
Senator Curtis King, R-Yakima, introduced the bill, voted on it, but no longer supports it. He challenges an ultimately added provision that could leave producers in charge for years of overtime pay. He believes the provision could be detrimental to the industry.
When asked if the senator supports overtime pay for farming, he replied that since he voted for the bill, “I have to say, ‘Yes’.
“I’m as non-comital as possible because the problem is both. It puts a real burden on (agriculture) and it places a real burden on the farmers it is supposed to help, ”King said.
“My fear is now linked to this overtime (legislation) and I think the (agricultural) community told me that they could not afford to pay overtime and that they were going to reduce it to 40 hours by week. “
Agriculture is not like other industries because it is the crops, not the managers, who dictate the hours of work, at least that is what the opposition maintains.
“As much as it sounds nice to say, ‘This is overtime,’ it won’t happen. You could have an hour or two and that’s it, ”said Jose Salazar, a third generation farm worker in Auburn, Wash.
Salazar says he is opposed to the overtime legislation for fear that it will cut his hours and wages.
“I don’t think there will be a farmer in Washington state or anywhere else who will be able to keep the hours and continue to pay overtime,” Salazar said.
We have brought this concern to the union, which defends the fight against overtime.
“California already has some of these progressive policies in place. They are already rolling out and the sky has not fallen, “said Elizabeth Strater, who represents United Farm Workers.” The vast majority of the food we eat comes from the United States.
Strater went on to call Washington state’s new legislation historic.
“It is really, more than anything, to be seen as an equal person, to be seen as having, deserving the same equal rights as someone who works in a factory or in a hospital or in a school or in a steelworks. Said Strater.
Manuel Salazar, 87, came from Mexico to the United States and started working in the fields in 1954. He says that as a young man he tried to work in restaurants and factories, but still has been attracted to farms.
“I have worked in the fields all my life,” Salazar said in Spanish. “We are working for the nation. For the whole country. From here to Mexico, everyone eats what we grow.
Rosella Mosby owns the farm where Salazar works. She says the margins in their industry are very slim as expenses continue to rise.
“You have a situation where we are already paying the highest wages in the country in Washington state for farm labor. We pay by the hour what the average is per day in Mexico, ”Mosby said.
“In my opinion, the legislator totally made a mistake on this bill because he did not think about it until the end,” she continued.
This story is anything but black and white – what we do know is that no matter what lawmakers do, these farmers will continue to work in the fields and eventually the food will end up in your grocery store.