Supreme Court agrees with AG that farmworkers must be paid fairly for all time worked

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The Washington Supreme Court has agreed with Attorney General Bob Ferguson that agricultural workers who are paid on a “piece-rate” basis by what they pick are also entitled to hourly compensation for time they spend on other aspects of their jobs.

In a “friend of the court” brief filed in Carranza and Martinez v. Dovex Fruit Company, Ferguson argued that piece-rate workers deserve compensation for work-related activities other than picking, including traveling between orchards, attending meetings and trainings, or transporting or storing equipment.

“Employers must fairly compensate farmworkers for all of their work. Period,” Ferguson said. “I will continue to stand up for the legal rights of farmworkers.”

A majority of the Supreme Court agreed with Ferguson, citing the Attorney General’s brief.

“An agricultural worker who is paid on a piece-rate basis for piece-rate picking work must be paid separate hourly compensation for the time he or she spends performing tasks outside of piece-rate picking work,” Justice Mary I. Yu wrote for the majority. That rate of pay, she continued, “must be at least the minimum wage or the agreed-upon rate, whichever is higher.”

The case centered around Dovex’s practice of “workweek averaging.”

Dovex uses a software program that divides an employee’s weekly piece-rate wages by the total number of hours they worked, and compares that average hourly wage to the state’s minimum wage. If the “workweek average” wage is below the state’s hourly minimum wage, Dovex augments that worker’s wages to bring their average up to minimum wage. Alternatively, workers whose averaged piece-rate pay exceeds the minimum wage receive no additional pay.

In the brief, Ferguson argued that the state’s minimum wage law is intended to require separate compensation for each hour of non-picking work by agricultural workers.

As of 2015, there were nearly 100,000 agricultural workers in Washington state working on about 7.3 million acres statewide. Many of those workers are paid on a piece-rate basis.

Assistant Attorney General Julian Beattie authored the brief for the Attorney General’s Office.

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