Today in Yakima, Governor Jay Inslee signed several crucially important worker protection bills, one of which is intended to help Washingtonians who work in the agricultural sector get the overtime pay they deserve. A few minutes ago, Inslee’s bill action earned Washington State a congratulatory statement from none other than the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden.
Here’s Biden’s statement in its entirety:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 11, 2021
Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. in Support of Washington State’s Overtime Bill for Farm Workers
I congratulate the Washington State Legislature and Governor Jay Inslee for signing into law SB 5172, Washington’s Overtime Bill for Agricultural Workers, which will help more than 100,000 farmworkers secure the overtime pay they deserve.
Agricultural workers in Washington and across the country have helped carry our nation through this pandemic — working long hours, often at great personal risk, to meet the needs of their communities and keep America healthy and well-nourished.
These overtime protections will ensure that agricultural workers in Washington are paid for all of the vital work they do.
For too long — and owing in large part to unconscionable race-based exclusions put in place generations ago — farmworkers have been denied some of the most fundamental rights that workers in almost every other sector have long enjoyed, including the right to a forty-hour work week and overtime pay. I was proud to stand with farmworkers during the Obama-Biden Administration, when California passed the nation’s first farmworker overtime bill, and I am proud to stand with the farmworkers of Washington State today.
It is long past time that we put all of America’s farmworkers on an equal footing with the rest of our national workforce when it comes to their basic rights — and I urge Congress to pass HR 1177, the U.S. Citizenship Act, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, so that we can extend those rights to farmworkers in all fifty states.
It’s not often that the President of the United States issues a statement weighing in on the passage of a law at the state level. As Biden’s comments make clear, this issue is really, really important to him. And it’s great recognition for the State of Washington, which has a history of working to strengthen its labor laws.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new focus on the challenges faced by frontline workers,” Inslee said in Yakima Tuesday.
“They have kept our state moving through one of our most challenging times, working through personal hardship and challenges.”
“The bills I am signing today represent an acknowledgement of the lessons we’ve learned and offer hope for a stronger path forward.”
In addition to SB 5172, the Governor also signed:
- HB 1097, sponsored by Representative Mike Sells [and requested by Governor Inslee’s office], helps to address these concerns by protecting workers who come forward about workplace hazards.
- SB 5115, prime sponsored by Senator Karen Keiser, will help protect high-risk workers, ensure that workers know when they’ve had a potential exposure to an infectious disease and make it easier for frontline workers to receive compensation if they’re infected on the job.
- SB 5190, sponsored by Senator Jeff Holy, addresses conditions specific to healthcare employees to use unemployment insurance benefits if they leave work to quarantine during a public health emergency and have clear access to workers compensation if they are exposed to the infectious or contagious disease that is subject to the a public health emergency.
- SB 5396, sponsored by Senator Liz Lovelett, incentivizes the development of new, community-based farmworker housing, providing more workers with safe and affordable housing.
Thanks to Governor Inslee’s staff for the above bill descriptions.
SB 5172 is bipartisan legislation; its prime sponsor is Republican State Senator Curtis King, and all of its original cosponsors were Republicans.
The bill earned the support of all of the state’s Democratic senators on final passage, along with most Republicans.
Only a few Republican senators opposed it.
They were Mark Schoesler, Mike Padden, Shelley Short, Jeff Wilson, Sharon Brown, and Perry Dozier. Schoesler, Brown, and Short were all cosponsors of the original bill filed by Senator King, but sadly, when the revised bill came up for floor action, they refused to support the substitute.
In the House, the bill earned the support of ninety-one of ninety-eight members. As in the Senate, only Republicans were opposed, including militant Republican Doug Sutherland, one of the most extreme members of the Legislature.
The bill employs a phased-in, incremental approach to overtime pay. It stipulates that agricultural employees are entitled to overtime in the following manner:
- beginning January 1st, 2022, no agricultural employee shall be employed for more than fifty-five hours in any one workweek unless the agricultural employee receives one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked over fifty-five in any one workweek;
- beginning January 1st, 2023, no agricultural employee shall be employed for more than forty-eight hours in any one workweek unless the agricultural employee receives one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked over forty-eight in any one workweek;
- and beginning January 1st, 2024, no agricultural employee shall be employed for more than forty hours in any one workweek unless the agricultural employee receives one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked over forty in any one workweek.
Our team at NPI is delighted to see this important package of worker protection bills signed into law. We are proud of all the great work done by Representative Mike Sells and Senator Karen Keiser to get us to this point. Having this worker protection victory recognized by the White House is especially sweet. Take a bow, Washington State activists! Our state delivered another win for workers today.