The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Pam Lewison
Washington Policy Center 

Flexible harvest bill deserves a fair hearing

 

Last updated 1/18/2022 at 7:16am



Farmworkers will be the first to know how much their incomes will change now that agricultural overtime rules have taken effect.

During the 2021 legislative session, ESSB 5172 ended the exemption for agricultural overtime, effectively forcing all farms in our state to begin paying overtime wages to farmworkers Jan. 1, 2022. The bill adopted a phased-in approach to overtime wages, with the overtime threshold set at 55 hours a week for 2022 before being decreased to 48 in 2023 and 40 in 2024. The bill originally included harvest flexibility, but the language was removed.

HB 1750 seeks to reintroduce the seasonal flexibility language and give farmworkers a chance to recover lost wages while giving farmers and ranchers the ability to save their harvests. Some other states that have implemented time-and-a-half wages for farmworkers in overtime settings have provisions for seasonal flexibility as well.

With the new overtime rule, many farmworkers will see their paychecks approximately 10 hours shorter than usual and, possibly, see their hourly rate reduced from the average farmworker salary of $18/hr. to the state’s 2022 minimum wage rate of $14.49/hr. or up to $140 a month less for 2022.

Under the proposed flexibility rules in HB 1750, agricultural employers would have 12 weeks starting in 2023 during which farmworkers would be eligible to work 50 hours without being paid overtime. Those flexibility weeks would be announced by the agricultural employer at least 30 days before harvest or at the time of hiring any employee who began work after the 30-day good faith announcement.

Farmworkers should be guaranteed the opportunity to earn as much as possible during the growing and harvest seasons in our state. Agricultural work has a natural slow-down in the winter months when little to no work is done and hours are dramatically reduced or ended altogether for most agricultural employees, meaning the nine months of the year that are busiest must include enough earnings to cover 12 months’ worth of living expenses.

Harvest flexibility also gives agricultural employers the ability to shift schedules to the growing and harvest seasons when it is vital to the survival of their businesses and critical to the earnings of their employees. Harvest is the single most pressing time of year in terms of seeing a farm through to the following year. Without a successful harvest of mature crops, there is no farm work for employees to return the following season.

– Pam Lewison is the Director for the Washington Policy Center Initiative on Agriculture and is based in the Tri-Cities office. She farms in Eastern Washington and is a tireless advocate for agriculture both in Washington state and around the country. She can be reached at [email protected]

 

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