Farm workers suffering from lower earnings as a result of new WA law testify in favor of fix; but Sens. Saldaña, Keiser suggest workers are ignorant on the issue, editorialize while translating workers’ testimony
EVERSON, Wash. – Farm workers and their advocates say they refuse to be silenced, after two Washington state Senators disparaged and manipulated their testimony, denying them fair access to a certified translator during a key hearing.
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, a former labor activist, began translating into English the testimony workers were delivering in Spanish, manipulating their words and adding her own editorializing comments during a Feb. 9 Senate Labor & Commerce committee hearing on a bill intended to address workers’ concerns.
Also, committee chair, Sen. Karen Keiser, interrupted at one point, saying she just wanted to “clarify,” but going on to suggest that those testifying in favor of the bill didn’t actually understand the issue they were speaking about.
“This to me was a shame, that we had a Senator and the chair redirecting people’s testimony, and basically saying, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. We know better than you. To me that’s just disgraceful,” said Enrique Gastelum, the son of an Eastern Washington farm worker and now head of a farm labor nonprofit wafla.
The bill, SB 5476, would restore some of the earning potential farm workers lost after the state began the nation’s most aggressive phase-in of agricultural overtime in 2021.
Many farms, facing skyrocketing costs and decreasing returns, face a heartbreaking choice of reducing workers’ hours to limit the impacts of overtime mandates or going out of business.
As a result of these reduced hours, farm workers are making less money and overwhelmingly clamoring for Olympia to restore their right to choose to work more hours during the busiest farming seasons, when they make the bulk of their annual income.
During an approved 12-week window, SB 5476 would allow workers to work up to 50 hours a week before time-and-a-half overtime pay kicks in, allowing them to increase their earnings while keeping their employer in business.
“Our people feel like they’re walking backwards. They’re making less money as it is right now, as they were probably eight, ten years ago. So we’re in support of this new bill, and we need you guys’ help,” Selah, Wash. farm worker Carlos Garcia told the committee during testimony.
For more information on workers’ concerns and the #LetUsWork movement, visit protectfarmworkersnow.org, an ongoing project of Save Family Farming to share farmworkers’ voices.