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March 9, 1971
Honorable James Matson
State Senator, 14th District
Olympia, Washington 98501
Cite as: AGLO 1971 No. 37 (not official)
This is written in response to your recent request for our opinion regarding the applicability of Senate Bill No. 445 to the employees of an irrigation district.
The bill to which you have referred proposes the enactment of the "Washington State Agricultural Labor Relations Act." Basically, its apparent purpose is to establish a system of collective bargaining for persons engaged in agricultural employment.
Section 2 of the bill defines a number of critical terms which are used throughout the substantive portion of the bill, including the terms "person," "employer," and "employee." See § 2 (1), (2) and (3), as follows:
"(1) 'Person' includes one or more individuals, labor organizations, partnerships, associations, corporations, legal representatives, trustees, trustees in bankruptcy, or receivers.
"(2) 'Employer' includes any person who regularly employs one or more employees in agricultural work, and any person acting as an agent of an employer.
"(3) 'Employee' includes any individual, age fifteen years or more, employed by an employer as defined in subsection (2) of this section in agricultural work, as defined in section (3) (f) of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and shall not be limited to the employees of a [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] particular employer unless this act explicitly states otherwise, and shall include any individual whose work has ceased as a consequence of or in connection with any current labor dispute or because of any unfair labor practice, and who has not obtained any other regular and substantially equivalent employment. However, the term 'employee' shall not include any individual employed in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or full time students including those on summer vacation, or independent contractors including those engaged in sharecrop operations, or confidential or clerical employees, guards, and supervisors, or any individual employed by any person who is not an employer as defined above in subsection (2) of this section."
With these definitions in mind, we conclude that this bill, if enacted, would not be applicable to the employees of an irrigation district for two reasons:
First, we note that irrigation districts are governmental political subdivisions organized under the provisions of chapter 87.01 RCW. Because of this, and because of the fact that the bill in question would limit the authority of such districts in the area of personnel management if it were deemed to be applicable to them, we do not believe that a court would hold an irrigation district to be either a "person" or an "employer," as above defined, in the absence of an express provision to the contrary. Accord, State ex rel. Thielicke v. Superior Court, 9 Wn.2d 309, 314, 114 P.2d 1001 (1941), in which the Washington court enunciated the following rule of construction:
". . . a general statute which tends to restrain or diminish rights and interests should not be construed to apply to the sovereign government unless the same be comprised therein expressly by name or be included by necessary implication. [Citations omitted]"1/
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
And secondly, even if, somehow, an irrigation district were to be regarded as a "person" we would doubt, from our review of the statutory functions of such districts as set forth in chapter 87.01 RCW, whether persons employed by such a district would be regarded as "employees in agricultural work."
Moreover, aside from the foregoing, there would in any event appear to be no sound reason for the legislature to be considering the enactment of legislation to establish collective bargaining procedures for employees of an irrigation district, since such legislation is already in effect in this state. See, chapter 108, Laws of 1967, Ex. Sess., (the "public employees collective bargaining act") presently codified in chapter 41.56 RCW. In an opinion dated August 15, 1968, to State Representative Irving Newhouse, copy enclosed, this office specifically concluded that irrigation districts are governed by this 1967 legislation.
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/The reason for this rule of construction is stated by the leading authority to be ". . . founded on the policy of preserving government from the injurious consequences of a statute." 3 Sutherland, Statutory Construction 191 (3rd ed. Horack 1943). Accord, Port of Seattle v. Inter Etc. Union, 52 Wn.2d 317, 321, 324 P.2d 1099 (1958), where the court said:
". . . it is a well-established rule of statutory construction that general legislation is inapplicable to the state or its political subdivisions, unless the statute expressly applies to them, or unless they must be included by necessary implication."