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House passes farmworker overtime bill

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YAKIMA COUNTY -- Agricultural workers in the Yakima Valley will soon become eligible for overtime pay under a bill that's already passed through the state senate and now the house - a move that both growers and farmworker groups are calling a win.

The bill passed 91 to 7 in the state house on Friday, after passing through the senate in March.

Farmworkers have been exempt from overtime pay since 1938, and this bill would change that for all ag workers.

The overtime rule would be phased in over the next three years starting in January at 55 hours. By 2024, time and a half would be due after 40 hours.

In November, the state supreme court ruled dairy workers are entitled to overtime pay. Because of the ruling, many local growers worried they could be forced to pay back overtime, going back years.

The bill specifically protects growers from having to pay retroactive overtime.

Farmworker groups says this legislation is a big step toward righting historic wrongs.

"This is a win for farmworkers because for the first time agricultural workers will have the benefit of having overtime just like every other industry has," says Edgar Franks with Familias Unidas por la Justicia. "Farmworkers work sun up to sun down depending on the season, and all kind of conditions. It's hazardous and it's dangerous but yet we're never included in having the benefit of overtime."

Franks says farmworkers risk their safety by working long hours, and they deserve to be compensated for that additional risk.

"I think it's been normalized because of that, such a long period of time that they were excluded, it just has become a normal thing, which we don't see it as a normal thing being excluded from laws that protect our health and safety," says Franks.

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A technical amendment was adopted in the house that clarifies aspects of the bill, so the bill now returns to the Senate for concurrence before heading to the governor's desk.

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