- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday that piece-rate farmworkers in the state must be paid separately for tasks outside of piece-rate picking work.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday, the majority wrote that state law mandates employees receive at least minimum wage for all work performed, The Capital Press reports .

“The plain language of the MWA requires employers to pay their adult workers “at a rate of not less than (the applicable minimum wage) per hour,’” the majority opinion reads. “There is no exception, other statutory provision, or judicial or executive interpretation that allows employers to evade this plain language in the context presented. Therefore, agricultural workers may be paid on a piece-rate basis only for the hours in which they are engaged in piece-rate picking work. Time spent performing activities outside the scope of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on a separate hourly basis.”

The ruling stems from a 2016 federal class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of seasonal and migrant agricultural employees against the Dovex Fruit Co. of Wenatchee. A federal judge referred the question to the state court for a decision.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Mary Yu, did not define what constitutes that so-called down time, deferring resolution of that to the district court. But the majority opinion said that the “separate rate of pay must be at least minimum wage or the agreed upon rate, whichever is higher.”

The main dissent, authored by Justice Debra Stephens, argued that the state’s Minimum Wage Act was not intended to forbid other types of compensation systems and she argues the majority has essentially rewritten the law. She notes that down time activities include moving ladders, weather down time and waiting for bins.

“The consequences of today’s holding extend far beyond this case,” Stephen said, writing that the law now “broadly applies to all nonhourly employees.”

“Reading it to require hour-by-hour compensation for nonproduction time will seriously undermine the piece-rate payment system as a viable compensation plan in many settings,” she wrote.

But Yu wrote that that despite what Stephens’ says “our decision today is limited, as it must be, to agricultural workers.”

Dovex President Mauro Felizia said in an email that he was disappointed in the decision, writing “Dovex believes it has always been in compliance with what the court is requiring.”


Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington

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