Changes to Washington Wine Ambassador Program

by Shona Milne on December 24, 2008

I just received my Christmas Newsletter from Kathy Timmons of Washington Wine Ambassadors. There will be some changes to the Washington Wine Ambassadors programs that will affect Washington wineries.

The state law prohibits a for-profit business from using “volunteers”. According to the law, helpers (for lack of a better word) must receive an equivalent of minimum wage for their work and the business must pay Labor and Industry (L&I) tax on helpers. At most wineries, ―volunteers‖ are provided food and beverages, plus wine for helping. This usually adds up to a value much higher than minimum wage. In addition, the wineries keep track of the ―volunteer‖ hours and pay the appropriate L&I tax. At some wineries ―volunteers‖ are actually hired on as casual labors for the day and receive a cash payment for their assistance. Unfortunately, some wineries have not heard of this law and are thus not aware that they need to pay L&I tax on helpers.

Along this same line is the issue of liability. The Washington Wine Commission’s lawyer is concerned about injury liability for Ambassadors when helping perform a job not under direct Commission supervision. While there has not been an incident since we began in 2003, it is possible, especially when working around crush or bottling equipment. The concern is that if an Ambassador gets hurt, it will be the Commission that gets sued.
As a result of these two issues, the Washington Wine Commission has suspended our assistance to any for-profit business. They are currently only allowing us to help non-profit/charity organizations along with Wine Commission events.

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