YAKIMA – Federal district court Judge Stanley A. Bastian gave initial approval yesterday to a class action settlement agreement that would require Mercer Canyons to pay $1.2 million to resolve a lawsuit involving over 600 Yakima Valley farm workers. Notice will be provided to all class members primarily through the mail and radio ads. Workers will have until June 30, 2017 to file a claim. (En Español)
“We’re thrilled with the settlement and that Judge Bastian has given preliminary approval,” said Columbia Legal Services Directing Attorney Lori Isley, who is representing the workers. “Our clients work hard to provide for their families and contribute to the local economy, and, after several years of litigation, we’re hoping these workers will finally receive the respect and compensation they deserve.”
Bacilio Ruiz and Jose Amador, two farm workers who filed the lawsuit in 2014, contend that Mercer Canyons violated federal and state wage laws in 2013 when it failed to inform them that vineyard jobs were available paying $12 an hour. The lawsuit alleged that Mercer Canyons misled local farm workers when it failed to tell them about higher-paying vineyard jobs under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program and underpaid those who did obtain jobs.
Mercer Canyons, based in Alderdale, WA, is one of the largest fruit and vegetable growers on the West Coast. The workers alleged Mercer Canyons promised the federal government to actively recruit and hire local farm workers for the $12/hour vineyard jobs, and then failed to inform its former vineyard employees about the jobs, and otherwise turned away hundreds of local farm workers who drove to the remote Alderdale office seeking employment. Instead, Mercer hired foreign H-2A workers to do the work despite federal law specifically requiring H-2A employers to give hiring preference to domestic workers.
In April 2015, Judge Bastian ruled that the case could proceed as a class action, and approved Mr. Ruiz and Mr. Amador as class representatives. Mercer Canyons appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit and a three-judge panel unanimously upheld Judge Bastian’s order.
Judge Bastian will schedule the case for a final approval hearing sometime later this summer.