YAKIMA, Wash. -- Larson Fruit has agreed to rehire about 18 guest workers who say they were blacklisted from employment after striking last year over unfair and unsafe working conditions at a Quincy orchard.
The company will also pay them $275,800, according to a settlement announced Thursday.
Earlier this summer, the workers filed a lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court, saying the grower’s failure to employ them this year was not only in retaliation, but in violation of a labor agreement. Also named in the lawsuit was the labor recruiter, Lacey-based Wafla.
Columbia Legal Services represented the workers along with their labor union, Familias Unidas por la Justice.
“This is an important settlement for our union, Familias, to protect agricultural workers who assert their rights to improve wages and working conditions on farms and orchards throughout Washington state. These workers were very brave and Familias is proud to represent them,” union president Ramón Torres said in a news release.
Larson Fruit president Keith Larson wasn’t available for comment Thursday.
The workers went on strike for several days last fall after about 30 complaints were ignored by the Selah-based grower. Workers complained they were subject to threats and racial and sexual slurs, and that pesticide was sprayed in orchards where they were working. Three of the striking workers were fired.
Under the agreement that ended the strike, the three fired workers were returned to their jobs and measures were taken to correct problems, including removing an abusive supervisor. Also in the agreement was a promise that the grower wouldn’t blacklist the workers from future employment.
But this year, the grower didn’t hire the workers, even though it sought the same number of guest workers from Mexico as it did last year: 156.
After going to the labor office in Mexico that works with Wafla, many of the workers learned Larson had not placed their names on the 2018 list of returning workers. But four workers who did not participate in the strike did make the list, according to the lawsuit.
Terms of the settlement include total payments to the workers of up to $275,800, in addition to a promise by the grower to include them on a list of preferred workers next year. If Larson Fruit fails to do so, it will be required to pay the workers an additional sum, according to the Columbia Legal Services news release.