Worker Justice – IMPACT LITIGATION

OVERVIEW

A group of workers from a lower Yakima Valley dairy raised concerns about their working conditions, including the failure of the employer to provide meal and rest breaks, the long hours of work and dangerous working conditions. Columbia Legal Services, along with private co-counsel, Marc Cote, filed a class action on their behalf seeking to change the practices and recover the workers damages for unpaid wages. The workers also challenged the exclusion of farm workers, including dairy workers, from overtime protection under the state Minimum Wage Act.

The non-overtime wage claim damages for the class were settled for $600,000, leaving the constitutional challenge to the exemption of farmworkers from overtime. The Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau requested and were granted leave to intervene, so they are now also parties in the case defending against the farmworkers’ challenge.

The case challenges nearly half a century of excluding farm workers from the basic health and safety protection of overtime which is afforded to almost all other workers engaged in dangerous occupations. The exemption is rooted in the racial bias of the New Deal era when political compromises were reached to exclude farm workers and domestic workers in order to get the southern votes needed to pass basic federal protections for workers. This bias was incorporated into Washington law and the exclusion remains today. Because there is no reasonable grounds for the exclusion, and it impacts a fundamental right, it violates the privileges or immunities clause of the state constitution, and also violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Legislative efforts are also underway at the federal level to extend overtime protection to farm workers.

Who is a farm worker in Washington State?
Definition of who is exempted from overtime under Minimum Wage Act, RCW 49.46.140(2)(g).

Watch the October 24, 2019 WA Supreme Court Oral Argument.

 

TEAM

Andrea Schmitt
Andrea Schmitt
Attorney
Lori Isley
Lori Isley
Deputy Director of Advocacy
Joe Morrison
Joe Morrison
Attorney
Elvia Bueno
Elvia Bueno
Legal Assistant

PHOTOS

Washington Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument This Week in Case Concerning Farm Worker Exclusion from Overtime Protection

Worker Justice | Impact Litigation | Media Release
'Washington Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument This Week in Case Concerning Farm Worker Exclusion from Overtime Protection'

The Washington Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this Thursday morning in Olympia concerning Washington’s decades-old exclusion of farm workers from overtime protection, a legacy of the Jim Crow era. The decision could impact overtime pay for over 200,000 farm workers across Washington State. (Español)

In 2016, Columbia Legal Services along with private co-counsel, Marc Cote of Frank, Freed, Subit & Thomas, filed a class action lawsuit, Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, on behalf of workers who allege they were not provided with adequate meal and rest breaks and not paid for all time worked while milking cows at the dairy in Outlook, Washington. In August 2017, a Yakima County Superior Court judge approved a $600,000 settlement in the case for 281 dairy workers.The Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau requested and were granted leave to intervene, so they are now also parties in the case defending against the farmworkers’ challenge. The overtime exclusion claim was not resolved by the settlement and is now before the state’s highest court.

Since 1959, the Legislature has exempted the agricultural industry from the overtime requirement in Washington’s Minimum Wage Act – protections afforded to almost all other workers engaged in dangerous occupations. As detailed in one of the five supportive briefs by amici curiae, the state exemption was directly modeled on a federal exemption crafted during the Jim Crow era, when most farm workers in the south were Black and lacked political power. This racially-tinged exclusion was incorporated into Washington law and remains today, affecting Latinx farm workers who make up the vast majority of our agricultural workforce.

WHAT: Oral Argument Concerning Farm Worker Exclusion from Overtime Protection

WHEN: 10:00 a.m., Thursday, October 24

WHERE: Temple of Justice, 415 12th Ave SW, Olympia, WA 98504

LIVE STREAMING: TVW – https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2019101067&autoStartStream=true

Plaintiffs Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar will be joining other workers and advocates from across the state to witness the argument in person in Olympia.

“The exclusion of agricultural workers from overtime pay violates the Washington State Constitution by giving special treatment to agricultural employers and discriminating against Latinx farm workers,” said Lori Isley, Deputy Director of Advocacy at Columbia Legal Services, who will be making the oral argument. “It’s time for Washington State to end this vestige of racial discrimination, which denies farm workers fair and equal treatment under the law.”

“Overtime laws are meant to protect workers from long hours that are harmful to their health. Employees in factories and other dangerous industries are protected under our state’s overtime law. There is no reason to exclude farm workers from this vital health and safety protection,” said co-counsel Marc Cote.

Media Contacts

Lori Isley, CLS Deputy Director of Advocacy
509-575-5593 EXT:217, lori.isley@columbialegal.org

Charlie McAteer, CLS Communications 
917-696-1321, charlie.mcateer@columbialegal.org 

LEGAL DOCUMENTS