A federal judge ruled Monday that more than 650 farm workers were denied disclosures about wages and other job conditions while working for Lower Valley farms owned by affiliates of John Hancock, the insurance giant.
A hearing has been set for late July to determine damages in the class action lawsuit brought against N.W. Management and Realty Services Inc., which was also found guilty of failing to register as a farm labor contractor. The workers had originally complained that the company shorted their wages by failing to document their work in the orchards and lowering the wages that had been promised once their work was completed.
Columbia Legal Services spokeswoman Lori Isley said the group believes individual plaintiffs could receive between $1,000 and $3,000 each.
“Folks who use contractors have to make sure those contractors are licensed and get the very basic disclosures that are required by our state law,” Isley said in a telephone interview. “If they use unlicensed labor contractors, they are going to be held responsible.”
The plaintiffs worked in the Alexander and Independence orchards near Sunnyside between 2009 and 2011. The orchards are owned by John Hancock but leased out to a California company, Farmland Management Services, which subsequently sublet the land to N.W. Management. Hancock and Farmland argued they were not responsible for the actions of the company that subleased the land, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice of Spokane disagreed.
Additional claims against N.W. Management and Realty Services are pending jury trial November. That includes claims that a group of 10 workers were fired in retaliation for calling the police and causing an investigation by the state Department of Labor and Industries into whether their foreman used a firearm to intimidate workers.