Jul 17, 2015
BREAKING: Washington court rules on farm labor piece-rate pay

On Thursday, the Supreme Court for the state of Washington ruled that farm workers who are paid a piece rate must also be compensated for rest breaks.

The court made the decision unanimously.

What does this mean for agriculture? The Yakima Herald explains:

The decision could drive up the cost of labor in Central Washington’s fruit production industry, where the workforce makes up about half the average farmer’s operating costs.

“What this means is a higher cost of production,” said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, a Yakima association that represents farmers in labor issues.

The ruling is the result of a portion of a class action lawsuit by Skagit County berry farm laborers in federal court, which sent the rest break pay question to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case during a March session at Heritage University in Toppenish.

State regulations mandate that employers cover the cost of 10-minute rest breaks every four hours for all workers in all industries. Farming is no exception.

However, the case was less clear when applied to piece-rate work compensated by unit instead of time.

In the case, piece workers accused Sakuma Brothers Farms of denying them rest breaks; the farm owners argued that the rest breaks were already included in the negotiated piece rate pay.

The court sided with the workers.

Those who side with the Supreme Court believe that paid breaks will encourage laborers to “take a breather from time to time for their own health.”

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