Landmark Gebbers Farms settlement means company will spend more than $2 million investing in Central WA farmworkers, families
Settlement follows L&I fines and citations in connection with worker COVID-19 deaths
TUMWATER — The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has reached a settlement with Gebbers Farms Operations, LP following one of the largest workplace safety and health fines in state history.
Under the agreement, Gebbers Farms will spend more than $2 million improving housing, quality of life, safety, and access to health care for workers and their families.
Gebbers Farms was fined $2,038,200 and $13,200 after two inspections in 2020 found 24 egregious willful violations — 12 for unsafe sleeping arrangements in temporary worker housing and 12 for unsafe worker transportation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Two farmworkers died from coronavirus (COVID-19) while living and working on the farm. Gebbers was also cited for six other serious violations including not reporting a fatality.
The other investigation found the farm was not ensuring adequate social distancing by allowing workers to use both top and bottom bunks and there were no barriers in the kitchen/cooking areas.
"Real, on-the-ground improvements for farmworkers and their families are a fitting way to honor the memories of the Gebbers' workers who died," said L&I Director Joel Sacks. "This settlement means Gebbers Farms will invest more than $2 million in changes that will improve the housing, health, and safety of workers."
Terms of the settlement
- Gebbers will make approximately $1.4 million in capital improvements to temporary worker housing, including:
- Demolishing and rebuilding one of its older, temporary worker housing camps. The camp, originally built in the 1970s, has separate sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities and consistently requires corrective actions to meet minimum licensing requirements. Three new units with all new amenities will be built in its place;
- Building a cell tower so workers have reliable communication with family;
- Upgrading electrical to support washing machines and dryers for workers;
- Purchasing new mattresses for temporary worker housing;
- Installing air conditioning units and making power upgrades;
- Installing signs at housing sites so emergency responders can locate them; and,
- Building and maintaining recreation areas including a soccer field, picnic tables, and benches.
- The company will donate $513,000 to improve access to health care for workers and their families. The money will go to area hospitals, health care centers, emergency medical services, day care and recreational centers serving the workers and their families.
- It will spend $150,000 to hire a full-time safety officer for three years who will:
- Oversee and supervise worker safety and health, including training and supervising the current staff who develop, implement, and enforce Gebbers' safety program.
- Has authority to stop any activity deemed unsafe or in violation of the safety and health rules.
In exchange for these actions that exceed all existing state regulatory requirements, the fines resulting from the citations will be reduced to $10,000.
Director Sacks added, "Instead of possibly spending years and taxpayer resources in court to potentially collect fines, this settlement means the company will put significant money where it will help the most: improving health, safety, and quality of life for farmworkers and their families. Because a court could not order Gebbers to make these changes, this is a better result for workers than we could have achieved through litigation."
Gebbers must post a copy of the settlement for employees to view for 10 days. Following the 10 days, the Board of Industrial and Insurance Appeals will issue an order and the agreement takes effect.
Dina Lorraine, L&I Public Affairs, 360-972-4868