Sep 20, 2021H-2A workers win $3M settlement against Stemilt Ag Services
A federal judge has approved a $3 million settlement between Wenatchee, Washington-based Stemilt Ag Services and more than 1,100 H-2A workers.
“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,” a Columbia Legal Services press release said after the lawsuit was filed last summer.
The H-2A workers were also uncompensated for the time they spent waiting before and after the work day, which was about a half hour each time.
According to a Sept. 17 story by the Wenatchee World, the lawsuit alleged the company, a Wenatchee-based subsidiary of Stemilt Growers, violated rules regarding employee down time. The workers were uncompensated for the time they spent waiting before and after the work day, which was about a half hour each time.
The lawsuit was filed in October 2020. U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. approved the settlement on Sept. 9.
A quarter of the $3 million settlement will cover attorney fees, while the remaining money will be divided between those employed by Stemilt AG Services.
Eligible workers were employed as hand harvesters, pruners, pickers, thinners or farm workers from 2015 to 2018. The money will be allocated based on the number of hours they worked during the three year time period.
Money from the lawsuit that goes unclaimed will be distributed to the Northwest Justice Project, which provides legal services to low-income families in the state.
In the settlement agreement, the three original plaintiffs will also receive an additional $6,000 as part of the settlement. Eligible workers must have filed a settlement claim form by Sept. 9, 2021. Once they receive their check, they will have 180 days to either deposit or cash the check.
In the lawsuit, filed by Columbia Legal Services in July 2020, workers said they were afraid of potential retaliation if they did not meet Stemilt Ag standards.
As part of the settlement, Stemilt Ag did not admit to any wrongdoing. U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. approved the settlement on Sept. 9.
Stemilt Ag Services employs H-2A workers in nearly 40 orchards statewide. The H-2A visa allows foreign citizens to work in the country temporarily. Stemilt Ag Services employed around 1,100 H-2A workers in 2017, according to the lawsuit.