Workers settle lawsuit with Wapato fruit packer for $265K

Five farmworkers have settled a lawsuit that alleged a Wapato fruit packing company interfered with worker organization efforts and wrongfully fired employees.

Workers settle lawsuit with Wapato fruit packer for $265K

Five farmworkers have settled a lawsuit that alleged a Wapato fruit packing company interfered with worker organization efforts and wrongfully fired employees. Under the settlement, WP Packing will pay $265,000, set up a 24-hour hotline to hear worker complaints, post workplace policies, provide training for supervisors and managers and discipline people who violate company policy, according to a news release from Northwest Justice Project.Starting in 2018, employees at the facility asked for improvements to workers' conditions and an end to supervisor harassment, according to plaintiffs' complaint filed in Yakima County Superior Court.Maria Guadalupe Morfin Avalos was one of five women who filed the lawsuit in 2021.'It is important that workers know they should not have fear about speaking up and asking for change," she said in the release. "If we join together, we can make changes."WP packing denied any wrongdoing in its initial answer to the complaint. An attorney for WP Packing said there was no admission of liability regarding the legal claims, but the company heard and considered plaintiffs' allegations in reaching the settlement.'WP Packing is happy to have reached an agreement that honors the Plaintiffs and the improvements at the company,' said Brendan Monahan, attorney for WP Packing, in an email.In 2018 and 2019, workers filed complaints with the state Employee Security Department and held meetings with management at WP Packing where they reiterated requests for better working conditions and alleged that a supervisor retaliated against and harassed workers who submitted complaints, according to court documents.In its initial response, WP Packing admitted meetings were held in fall of 2018 and spring of 2019 but denied any harm had been done to plaintiffs.The plaintiffs alleged that WP Packing did little to resolve the workplace issues and that their supervisor continued to retaliate by reducing work hours and threatening to terminate employment, allegations which WP Packing denied.In April 2019, WP Packing presented an agreement to the workers, according to the complaint filed by the plaintiffs.

It allegedly contained workplace policies and a waiver of workers' right to collective or class action claims in favor of binding arbitration in employment-related disputes.According to the complaint filed by the plaintiffs, they were told they would be fired if they did not sign the agreement. WP Packing admitted to presenting an agreement but denied any such ultimatums had been issued.Eventually, all five farmworkers left WP Packing. One said she refused to come in the day after Thanksgiving due to the stress in the workplace.

Another refused to sign the agreement. She was allowed to return to work, but did not because of the working conditions, according to the plaintiffs' complaint.WP Packing closes seasonally every year. According to their complaint, the three remaining women said they were unable to return to work after the WP Packing reopened.

WP Packing denied those workers were fired.Farmworkers are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which protects workers' right to organize. In Washington, however, farmworkers receive some protections under the Little Norris-LaGuardia Act.The workers alleged there was interference in self-organization to improve working conditions, verbal harassment and threats, all leading to the termination of five workers and causing emotional and economic harm. WP Packing denied any wrongdoing in its initial response.The settlement was reached Dec.

9.The farmworkers were represented by lawyers from the Northwest Justice Project and Barnard, Iglitzin & Lavitt LLP. WP Packing was represented by law firms Foreman, Hotchkiss, Basucher & Zimmerman PLLC of Wenatchee and Stokes Lawrence, P.S., based in Yakima. Jasper Kenzo Sundeen's reporting for the Yakima Herald-Republic is possible with support from Report for America and community members through the Yakima Valley Community Fund.

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