HR Strange But True!
November 10, 2005

If you are going to be a shepherd in the state of Washington, you'd best love the work because you won't be covered by the state's minimum wage laws.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last month that shepherds are not entitled to minimum wage protections under a provision in the law that clearly exempts workers who live or sleep at their worksite and those who spend a lot of time on call, not actively working.

The high court ruled against two Chilean immigrant shepherds who walked off their jobs and abandoned their flocks in 2000, and who later sued for wages they said were owed them. Their employers filed a countersuit for breach of contract.

The shepherds' duties included watching over the animals and caring for injured or sick ones. Much of the time, the shepherds weren't actively working, but they were required to be on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sheep rancher Max Fernandez paid the Chilean sheepherders a government-set base of $650 per month, in addition to providing food and supplies, housing, life and health insurance, two weeks paid vacation and transportation "and all their needs" amounting to $2,400 to $2,500 a month, he said.

Columbia Legal Services, which represented the shepherds, argued the men were paid far below the state's minimum wage, currently $7.35 per hour. State law doesn't allow room and board to be factored into minimum wage calculations.

Fernandez was pleased by the ruling but unhappy that he had to spend more than $60,000 to defend himself in a case he believes should never have been filed in the first place.

"We have always complied with state and federal laws," Fernandez said. "If they have a problem with the law, they should have gone to the Legislature instead of suing me."

Source: Capital Press Agriculture Weekly

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