Washington is positioned to be the first state to bring the 40-hour work week to agricultural workers, under a bill approved by the state Senate Tuesday.

Under the modified Senate Bill 5172, which was originally proposed by Yakima’s Republican Senator Curtis King, Washington would establish a three-year phase-in period of the new requirement that employers pay overtime to agricultural workers. Beginning in January 2022, overtime would be due after 55 hours of work in a week; in January 2023, after 48 hours; and in January 2024, after 40 hours.


 “This bill corrects a historic injustice,” said Senator Karen Keiser, a Democrat from Des Moines. “Most workers in America can take the 40-hour work week for granted, but for decades, agricultural workers have not been eligible for overtime pay.”

“This transitional approach improves the safety of an essential and at-risk workforce, increases the public welfare of low-income individuals by removing a historical barrier to their earning potential, and maintains the food security and economic security provided by a stable agricultural sector,” said Keiser.

The legislation also pre-empts lawsuits for back pay filed after the Supreme Court decision was issued in November 2020. SB 5172 does not cover those involved in lawsuits against the DeRuyter Brothers Dairy.

“Uncertainty from the decision regarding overtime standards is compounding the pandemic’s disruptions to the food chain and the safety challenges of operating during a public health crisis,” said Keiser. “This bill will enable our agricultural sector to keep feeding the world.”

The legislation cleared the Senate on a 37-12 vote and now moves to the House for consideration.

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