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ELAINE THOMPSON/AP PHOTO

WENATCHEE - A large group of H-2A farm workers who harvested apples for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Ag Services have filed an employment rights class action lawsuit against the orchardist. The H-2A workers allege that Stemilt violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Washington Law Against Discrimination through threats of intimidation that caused H-2A workers to believe that they would suffer serious consequences if they didn’t meet Stemilt’s labor demands.

“This case seeks to protect the rights of H-2A workers, some of our most vulnerable workers, who often come from very poor areas in Mexico and are being taken advantage of by one of the largest agricultural employers in the United States,” said Columbia Legal Services attorney Diana Garcia. “Farm workers perform some of the most arduous jobs, often in extreme weather, to help put fresh food on our tables. They deserve dignity and respect, not threats and retaliation for asserting their rights.”

H-2A migrant workers are not offered the same federal protections as other farm workers. Columbia Legal Services says migrant workers are exposed to retaliation because labor recruiters in foreign countries “routinely refuse to rehire H-2A workers who try to improve working conditions for themselves and others.”

Columbia Legal Services and Keller Rohrback L.L.P. filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Gilberto Gómez García, Jonathan Gómez Rivera, and all other similarly situated H-2A workers who worked for Stemilt in 2017. 

According to Columbia Legal Services, Stemilt’s H-2A contract didn’t contain any production standards. Garcia and Rivera were allegedly told that they had to pick a certain number of bins of apples per day. If they didn’t meet this production standard, they would allegedly receive written warnings.

“They were routinely threatened that if they received three written warnings, they would be fired, returned to Mexico without expenses paid, and banned from future employment. The Gómezes claim their working conditions were intolerable due to Stemilt’s threats to fire them if they did not meet the unlawful production standards and due to Stemilt’s threats that they would not be rehired in the future by Stemilt or other U.S. companies,” Columbia Legal Services stated.

The workers also allege that when H-2A workers were transported to other Stemilt orchards to work, they were not compensated for the time that they spent waiting before the work day began and after the work day ended. Stemilt’s managers routinely required the workers to wait approximately half an hour or more before they were permitted to start work and while the manager completed paperwork at the end of the day.

(14) comments

Desert Dweller

Disgruntled employees, who knows what happened.

They will get their day in court.

They only list 2 names in the article out of thousands of employees.

LocalNeighbor

I face the same kind of rules at my current job. I need to be there at least 15 minutes early to clock in, put my stuff away and be ready to start on time. I provide my own transportation, so add another 20 minutes to that.

I have a quota, or tact time, that needs to be met. If I do not meet it, I get warned. If I cannot meet job performance, I know I will lose my job and I will not be rehireable.

The question here is are the quotas reasonable? Is being ready on time reasonable? I have migrant friends that loved quota or per box work, used to make more money than I did hourly. Is there some translation that made it feel threatening? Seems like both sides have a point.

@the real JohnQPublic

They will get their day in court!

Getrealman

This should not be a major issue. They deserve their day in court, to be hear, and have changes made if deemed necessary. Should not matter what their race or job description is period. Just attempt to treat each other well and fairly.

Bodhisattva

It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where those who have an “upper hand” in life think it’s perfectly acceptable to treat these hard working people like crap. What’s that saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes? The reason we bring the migrant workers here? Because VERY FEW citizens would or could do that work. Back breaking labor in intense weather conditions for measly wages. They have my complete respect and gratitude.

opinionscrossroad

@hey boda.. Why don't you plant a orchard and then manage it?? ?? Obviously you think you can do it better .. ??!!?? Then when you see your crop out there losing quality and falling onto the ground you can preach how the management has the "upper hand"..

But my guess is you might be one of those people who buy the cheapest fruit and produce .. There is a cost to everything..

If you REALLY REALLY cared, you'd just go to the orchard and pick your own fruit !! Even the "farmers market" still uses labor that you have no control or knowledge of.. Picking your own is the only way to guarantee that the laborers have the "upper hand" while you use your arms to pick..

Bodhisattva

@opinions Why are you so effing negative about everything?? This isn’t about me picking my own fruit (I do when I can, by the way) THIS is about treating other humans with dignity and respect. How hard is it for you to comprehend that? Do you walk around with a mouth full of sour grapes all day?? How is it possible to be such a grouchy jerk all the time? Ugh. Just take your negativity elsewhere. I don’t have time for it.

justbecool

Quick Opinions, retreat!

Anotherbrickinthewall

hey opinions I have a question... Why on earth would you respond to Bodh with that retort? The opinions they expressed had nothing whatever to do with your rant. Whats the point?? Im not trying to start a fight with you, I see you on here everyday. Like, are you okay?? Do you have anyone to talk to?

Ncw-engineer

If the farmers crop is losing quality, it is the farmers fault. They should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and figure out how to run their farm more efficiently instead of relying on exploiting immigrants to turn a profit. If your food wasn't losing quality (hey you said it, not me) people would be willing to pay more.

Also it is clear that in farmer-labor relations, farmers have the upper hand. The price a farmer pays labor for a cherry lug has DECREASED from $4.50 in the late 90's to $3.50 a lug (per this article, https://bit.ly/3hnG9Xz) but in my own experience it was ~$5.50-$6.00 a lug a few years ago, not exactly in line with inflation either. But since you think farm labor has the upper hand I'm sure you encourage all of your kids and grandkids to be cherry pickers, right?

Oh Really

How dare they think they have the right to be treated as well as you--- male bovine. You should change your screen name to AngryWhiteMan. You go work in the orchards then talk about it with some knowledge not just built in discrimination.

MaleBovineFeces

If you don’t like the work don’t come stay in Mexico we are already building machines to automate your jobs anyway.

Cheburashka

They have machines that insert punctuation now too if you don't clean up your act you may find yourself replaced russian bots say the same thing you do the truth of the matter is they say it better than you do they're just machines they have automated trolling.

opinionscrossroad

I cannot WAIT until those Fruit picking machines are put into service.. It will be SUCH a relief to finally hear the end of WHINERS complaining about workers this and workers that .. That immigrants are only here to work in farmers under paid and undervalued fields.. I guarantee you, if a farmer could not have to rely on large numbers of humans to bring in a crop they probably wouldn't..

Machines just do the job ..

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