Ruling favors Yakima Valley farm workers

Damages awarded to more than 700

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YAKIMA — More than 700 farm workers will receive between $1,000 and $3,000 each because their employers failed to provide basic disclosures about wages and working conditions as required under state law.

The total federal court judgment against affiliates of John Hancock-operated farms near Sunnyside is $1,004,000. Each of the 722 farm workers will receive $1,000 for each season worked.

The class action lawsuit was filed in July 2012 after a group of 10 workers alleged they were fired by NW Management and Realty Services in retaliation for contacting authorities because their foreman was displaying and shooting his gun as a way to intimidate them.

The workers originally complained that the company shorted their wages by failing to document their work and lowering the wages that had been promised once their work was completed.

The court also ruled in June that NW Management and Realty Services Inc., which employed the workers and subleased the land from California-based Farmland Management Services, failed to register as a farm labor contractor.

Victory for workers

Lori Isley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, which represented the farm workers, said in a news release Friday that had the company prevailed, that would mean the law should not apply to them.

Thus, the door would have opened to allow any corporate farm to contract around state laws that provide basic protections to farm workers, Isley said.

John Hancock and Farmland Management Services argued it was not responsible for the actions of NW Management and Realty Services, but the federal court disagreed, finding that "virtually all the proceeds from the sale of fruit grown flow directly to John Hancock."

The court also said that without the farm workers, "the entire operation would have come to a grinding halt."

Farm workers who worked at the Alexander and Independence orchards between 2009 and 2011 should contact Columbia Legal Services, 1-800-631-1323, ext. 211.