In Washington, two dairy workers are leading a class-action lawsuit against the state claiming that exemption from overtime pay and other benefits violates the workers’ constitutional rights.
Patricia Aquilar and her coworker, Jose Martinez, both claim that while they were deprived of overtime pay and paid breaks while working for DeRuyter Brothers Dairy in central Washington. “I worked six days a week for eight to nine hours. They said we would get breaks but we didn’t have even a full lunch break, just 15 or 25 minutes,” stated Aquilar.
Columbia Legal Services filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in Yakima County Superior Court, which could affect approximately 50 workers so far. The lawsuit claims specifically that the inclusion of the agriculture industry to the state’s Minimum Wage Act in 1959 violates the protections from favoritism and discrimination in Washington’s Constitution.
Washington is not the only state to be experiencing changes to the agriculture industry, according to Columbia Legal Services attorney, Lori Isly. “We’re seeing some momentum around the country to challenge these types of exclusions,” said Isly. In fact other states that are currently undergoing similar challenges are:
- New Mexico
- New York
Speculation From Dairy Farm Owners
Dairy farm owners are voicing their concerns regarding the challenges. The economic situation has put strain on the ability for dairy farmers to accommodate for overtime pay and and the new minimum wage plans introduced by Initiative 1433, according to Jay Gordon, policy director for the Dairy State Dairy Federation.
It is possible that dairy farmers may have to limit work hours or cut workers entirely in order to make up for the higher wages. Considering the low cost and elasticity for milk in the current market, not much can be done to compensate for higher industry costs. Washington is one of the largest dairy producers in the country, providing a milk market value of almost $1.3 billion.
“A lot of (producers) will leave, and a lot will will wonder how to cut jobs,” said Gordon.