May 11 (UPI) — Piece-work farm laborers in Washington state must be paid minimum wage for any other work they do, the state Supreme Court ruled.
The justices ruled 5-4 in favor of farmworkers, who said they should be paid for time they spend working outside of piece work in the orchards and fields. This generally involves tasks like loading and unloading equipment at the beginning and end of the day, and traveling between fields.
“It should not come as a surprise to growers that you have to pay workers for all their work,” said Marc Cote, an attorney representing two workers who filed the proposed class-action lawsuit against Dovex Fruit Co.
Farmers argued that because the workers’ weekly take-home pay averaged more than minimum wage per hour, they shouldn’t be required to give additional pay for other tasks. Dissenting judges agreed.
The court ruled, however, the Washington Minimum Wage Act “requires employers to pay their adult workers ‘at a rate of not less than [the applicable minimum wage] per hour.’”
“There is no exception, other statutory provision, or judicial or executive interpretation that allows employers to evade this plain language in the context presented,” they wrote.
The ruling could mean piece-work laborers can sue for back wages.
Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, told The Seattle Times the ruling could cause some farmers to ditch the piece-work pay system, resulting in less wages for productive workers who’d benefited from it.