In late January, Washington farmworkers held rallies and testified at the state capitol in Olympia regarding suggested changes to agricultural overtime mandates.
Sen. Curtis King, a Republican representing South Central Washington, has introduced a bill that would allow agricultural employers to select 12 weeks each season to lift the overtime threshold from 40 to 50 hours for 1 ½ times the regular pay rate.
King floated the same proposal, Senate Bill 5476, in 2023. It died in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. The companion version of the proposed legislation is House Bill 1523.
Due to time constraints set by the committee chair, only a handful of people on each side testified at a hearing on Jan. 30. However, hundreds signed in — 545 in support of the bill, 56 against.
Farmworkers in favor of the seasonality clause said the overtime mandate, passed by the state legislature in 2020, has reduced their overall hours and their standard of living.
“We are worried about our future,” said Alejandro Anita, a supervisor and 35-year employee at Knutson Farms in Sumner.
Seasonality opponents said farm employers could afford overtime wages for their employees but chose to spend the money on H-2A contracts, which are even more expensive.
“How is it a company can bring in H-2A workers and cover all those expenses but claim to go bankrupt if they have to pay overtime to local workers here?” said Alfredo Juarez, a farmworker in Skagit and Whatcom counties and a member of the union Familias Unidas por la Justicia.
The week before, supporters of both positions held rallies on the Capitol campus — Jan. 23 for those opposed, led by Familias Unidas and other farm labor advocate groups; Jan. 25 for those in favor, led by the Center for Latino Leadership.
King spoke at the Jan. 25 rally, attended by an estimated 200 people who held signs and chanted for more work hours.
—by Ross Courtney