Washington state Supreme Court rules truckers entitled to OT

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Truckers and other workers based in Washington state are entitled to overtime pay if they exceed 40 hours per week, even if much of their time is clocked out of state, the state Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision Thursday, March 1.

Washington’s minimum wage law “unambiguously requires that overtime be paid to a Washington employee based on all hours worked,” Justice Barbara Madsen wrote for the majority. In his dissent, Justice Jim Johnson suggested the opinion would upend nearly two decades of practice in the state and throw the trucking industry into turmoil.

Phil Talmadge, a former state Supreme Court justice who represented the Washington Trucking Association in the case, called the ruling a “mess” and told the Associated Press that he expected an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “There are now potentially thousands of claims for overtime wages that nobody believed existed before,” Talmadge told the AP. “The court was oblivious to the practical implications of what it just decided.”

The case arose from a dispute between Food Express Inc., based in Arcadia, Calif., and Larie E. Bostain, who worked for its Vancouver, Wash., operation. Bostain drove for Food Express for almost 10 years, until he was fired in 2002. In his last year, he averaged 48 hours per week hauling food in the Northwest, but he never worked more than 40 hours a week within Washington.

After the company fired him, Bostain sued, claiming he should have received overtime. He based the argument on the Minimum Wage Act, which says truckers — like most workers — must be paid time-and-a-half for hours above 40 per week, or the equivalent if they are paid by the mile.