The Washington agricultural overtime bill passed the state House of Representatives on April 12, offering protection from back wage claims but no seasonality exemption sought by the tree fruit industry.

The bill, which would phase in a mandate for time-and-a-half wages for overtime work, will now go back to the Senate for reconciliation before being sent to Gov. Jay Inslee for signature, said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. The Senate passed a version in early March and will likely approve the House amendments, DeVaney said.

Either way, the final bill will feature protection against back pay claims for employers who were following state law, a key component sought by the tree fruit association and other agricultural groups, DeVaney said. However, it probably will not include an exemption sought by the industry that would have allowed employees to work up to a certain amount of hours exempt from overtime during certain busy times of the year, such as during harvest.

However, DeVaney said industry officials would continue to seek such an exemption — even after the bill is signed and put into practice. Both versions would gradually institute weekly overtime thresholds at 55 hours in 2022, 48 hours in 2023 and 40 hours in 2024.

Federal labor laws exempt agricultural employers from overtime requirements, though several fruit-producing states, such as California and New York, have passed their own laws. In Washington, the proposed legislation was a response to a ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court in December that granted overtime benefits to dairy workers who challenged the exemption. 

—by Ross Courtney