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Oppose Washington SB 5172

Community 2 Communuty  |  Issue: February 2021

Redress injustices to agricultural workers

What’s right is right, farmworkers deserve overtime pay.
Photo: Edgar Franks

By law, agricultural workers in Washington State were excluded from receiving overtime, but a recent state Supreme Court decision overturned that law. Labor advocates and organizations, including Community to Community Development, the Washington State Labor Council, Familias Unidas por la Justicia and the Washington Employment Lawyers’ Association are asking you to show your opposition to SB 5172 now.

SB 5172 is a response to a November 2020 decision by the Washington state supreme court. It is an attempt by the agricultural industry to avoid paying retroactive overtime for farmworkers.

In Martínez-Cuevas vs. DeRuyter Brothers, the court found that dairy workers in Washington were unlawfully excluded from receiving overtime-rate pay.

For 60 years state law has exempted the agricultural industry from paying overtime rates to workers. The workers argued that this exemption violated the state constitution. In a 5-4 decision, the state supreme court agreed that the exemption was unconstitutional and should be ended.

The exemption of farmworkers from overtime is rooted in the racism of the 1930s when Southern votes were needed to pass basic federal protections for workers.

To overcome Southern objections, farm workers and domestic workers, who made up the majority of the black workers in the South, were excluded from the new protective policies. This racist exclusion was taken from the federal law and incorporated into Washington state law.

The historic state Supreme Court decision to expand justice for farmworkers could have far-reaching consequences for farmworkers and for the agricultural industry as a whole.

Editors note: The agro-corporations want the Legislature to pass a law that will cancel the recent state supreme court ruling in Martínez-Cuevas vs. DeRuyter Brothers so that they do not have to pay back wages to their agricultural workers. SB 5172 is a classic example of how the capitalists protect their own interests all the time.

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