Farmworkers, overtime pay, essential workers, safety risk, U.S. food system, agricultural exemptions

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In the fall of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, a closely divided (5-4) Washington Supreme Court, in Martinez-Cuevas v. Deruyter Bros. Dairy Inc.1, held that dairy workers, despite a state wage and hour law2 specifically exempting agricultural workers, are entitled to overtime pay. The Court based its decision, in part, on the dangerous nature of the work performed by the dairy workers.3 Although the decision was specific to dairy workers in Washington, the majority of U.S. farmworkers are not entitled to overtime wages while working jobs that are generally considered dangerous and have been made more so during COVID-19.