YAKIMA, Wash. — Six area growers have agreed to pay a total of $2.6 million to more than 3,000 field workers who were not paid during breaks as required by state law.
The settlement was finalized Friday in Yakima County Superior Court.
Attorney Craig Ackermann, who represented the workers, commended the growers for their willingness do the right thing by entering a full settlement.
“They pretty much paid 100 percent on the dollar to what they owed everybody,” he said.
Yakima attorney Brendan Monahan said growers agreed to the settlement rather than spend the time and money to challenge a federal court ruling that opened the door for the lawsuit by the workers in the first place.
The settlement covers a period of time prior to a change in state law that required growers to give field workers paid 10-minute breaks every four hours.
The settlement stems from two previous rulings — a July 2015 state Supreme Court ruling ordering farmers to give paid breaks and a January 2017 U.S. District Court ruling allowing payments to be retroactive up to three years.
About a month after the federal ruling, the six farming groups were hit with the class-action lawsuits in Superior Court.
Named in those class-action lawsuits were Frosty Ridge Orchards, Wyckoff Farms, Gilbert Orchards, MMP Orchards, Rogue Farms and Washington Fruit Administrative Services.
They were accused of not making retroactive payments for unpaid breaks for a time that spanned nearly 18 months prior to the initial ruling, said Monahan.
Individual claimants will receive payments ranging from about $260 to $3,440.
Washington Fruit Administrative Services will pay the largest amount at more than $1.1 million while Wyckoff Farms agreed to $590,000 and Gilbert Orchards agreed to $365,000. MMP Orchards will pay $214,000, Frosty Ridge Orchards agreed to $185,000 and Rogue Farms will pay about $100,000.
The issue centers on field laborers who are paid piece work, meaning their pay rate is based on the amount of work performed rather than an hourly rate.
For the better part of a century it had been understood by farmers and laborers that piece work pay didn’t include breaks, Monahan said.
Claimants were being paid piece work and performed various duties in fields and orchards that included picking fruit and pruning trees, the lawsuit said.
The workers accused the growers of willfully denying the retroactive pay, and initially sought double pay in damages, the lawsuit said.
Rather than spending the time and money to challenge the matter in U.S. Supreme Court, the growers agreed to the settle without paying double damages, Monahan said.
“Once the plaintiffs agreed to waive their claims of “willfulness” we were able to come to an agreement that was designed to get the wages to the workers as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he said.