News Release

Yakima orchards face lawsuit for more than $450,000 in back wages owed workers

August 25, 2021
#21-026

TUMWATER — The Washington State Attorney General's Office (AGO) has filed a lawsuit against two Yakima orchards in an effort to recoup more than $450,000 in back wages owed workers.

The legal action is based on a Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigation. The agency found that more than 400 workers were not paid correctly for their work between 2018 and 2020. G&G Orchards Inc., and RC Orchards LLC, along with owners Rene and Carmen Garcia, are named in the lawsuit, filed Aug. 18 in Yakima County Superior Court.

"These workers earned every dollar they're owed," said Chris Bowe, assistant director of L&I's Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards Division. "With the Attorney General's Office, we're doing what's necessary to uphold a high standard of respect for the dignity of workers and what they do."

The companies failed to pay workers the correct piece-rate wage for fruit they harvested, according to the investigation. Workers are also owed wages for being required to remain at the job site while waiting for machines to be repaired. In total, the agency investigation found the companies owed workers around $408,000 in wages and interest; and another $42,000 for machinery breakdown time.

"They were in a packing shed waiting for machines to be fixed," said Bowe. "They weren't free to do their own thing and instead were required to remain on site."

 The companies rebuffed extensive efforts to reach a settlement. In addition to back wages, L&I and the AGO want the orchards to improve their accounting practices by making two key changes:

  • Conducting self-audits every six months for the next year, and submitting a report to L&I with pay records showing they are complying with the law.
  • Changing record-keeping practices so documents include all hours worked each day and each week for all employees. This would include accurate records of pieces of fruit workers pick daily, and when they receive meal and rest breaks.

 Last year, the orchardists reached a settlement in a separate lawsuit filed by the Seattle-based Northwest Justice Project. The group filed for back wages on behalf of seven H-2A workers who eventually received $240,000 in wages and damages.

 The largest previous wage complaint case in recent memory was a 2017 settlement L&I reached with Hertz and Thrifty rent-a-car companies. In that case, 157 workers filed wage complaints for nearly $2 million owed between Jan. 1, 2014-Sept. 30, 2015.

 Labor & Industries investigates all wage-payment complaints it receives, as required by state law. Workers can file a complaint online or by calling 1-866-219-7321.

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For media information:

Matthew Erlich, Public Affairs, 360-902-6508

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