Washington Supreme Court rules on piece rate case
Today the Washington Supreme Court ruled that farm workers paid on piece rate must be paid separately for rest breaks. The court was asked to rule on two certified questions arising from a class action lawsuit, Demetrio v. Sakuma Bros. Farms, pending in federal district court.
The first question was whether an agricultural employer must separately pay piece-rate workers for the rest breaks to which they are entitled. The court interpreted state law requiring rest breaks be “on the employer’s time.” The court said, “The plain and ordinary meaning of this phrase is clear: employers must pay agricultural employees during their 10-minute breaks.” In doing so, the court rejected the argument that the piece rate was intended to account for rest breaks.
The second question was how must agricultural employers calculate the rate of pay for the rest break time for piece-rate workers. The court ruled that piece-rate workers must be paid for rest breaks at either the minimum wage (if piece rate production falls below that threshold) or the piece-rate worker’s regular wage. The regular wage is calculated by totaling the worker’s piece-rate earnings and dividing them by the hours worked, excluding the time for rest breaks.
The court declined to decide whether these changes should be applied retroactively.
The ruling will likely have drastic repercussions throughout all of labor-intensive agriculture in Washington. Washington Farm Bureau will continue to follow the effects of this case and will provide more information as it becomes available.