Farm settles labor lawsuit for $1.2M

Published online: Mar 20, 2017 News
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YAKIMA, Wash.—A large southern Washington farm has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving 641 Yakima Valley farmworkers.

U.S. District Judge Stanley A. Bastian granted preliminary approval of the settlement on March 7.

Farmworkers Bacilio Ruiz Torres and Jose Amador, represented by Columbia Legal Services, filed a lawsuit in 2014 contending Mercer Canyons Inc. violated federal and state wage laws in 2013. The farm allegedly underpaid domestic workers for vineyard work and failed to inform them that they were entitled to higher pay of $12 per hour that Mercer Canyons was paying H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers.

Mercer Canyons has denied it violated laws. Rob Mercer, co-owner, could not be reached for comment.

The remote family farm, more than 125 years old, is in the Horse Heaven Hills south of Prosser and north of the Columbia River town of Alderdale. The 12,000-acre farm includes vineyards and produces about 365 million pounds of fresh produce annually.

The lawsuit alleged the company failed to contact former vineyard employees about the higher-paying jobs and turned away hundreds of local farmworkers to hire foreign H-2A workers in violation of state and federal wage laws.

Mercer Canyons has said it was approved to hire 44 H-2A workers but hired only 19 after hiring 22 local workers for the jobs. All of them were paid the higher wage required by H-2A regulations, Mercer Canyons said last August.

The judge appeared to rely upon plaintiffs’ assertion that Mercer Canyons had to inform every farmworker it had contact with about the availability of H-2A work without pointing to any legal requirement to do so, the farm said.