NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

President Biden congratulates Washington for adopting overtime pay law for farmworkers

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:

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.

Governor Inslee signs a worker protection bill

Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee signs a work­er pro­tec­tion bill in Yaki­ma, flanked by sev­er­al state law­mak­ers (Pho­to: Office of the Governor)

“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.

(The above sum­maries are from the final bill report writ­ten by non­par­ti­san staff.)

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.

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