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Berry Pickers Say They Should Be Paid For Rest Breaks

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Not ready for prime time: Western Washington farmers are experiencing one of the latest seasons for crops in recent memory. Strawberries may ripen at least two weeks later than normal.

Should berry pickers be paid separately for rest breaks? This is a question before the Washington State Supreme Court tomorrow.

Farm workers are suing Sakuma Brothers Farms, based in Burlington. They say the 10 minutes of break time required every four hours under state law should be paid for outside the money they earn bringing in a harvest of berries.

Laborers who do this work are paid based on the volume they pick, not by the hour. It’s called “piece rate,” and it’s a common way to pay people in agriculture.

Workers at Sakuma Brothers stop what they are doing every four hours when a horn goes off. Ten minutes go by, the horn sounds once more and people get back to work. It’s those 10 minutes the plaintiffs say they should be paid for.

Attorneys for Sakuma Brothers say when the “piece rate” rules were written by the State Department of Labor and Industries 25-years-ago the agency decided not to require additional and separate pay for rest breaks and that what workers earn is intended to cover everything.

The Washington State Supreme Court will hear this case in Eastern Washington at Heritage University  on the Yakima Indian Reservation.

Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.