Yakima orchard owners settle yearslong lawsuit, paying $500K in back wages

By: - July 13, 2023 4:03 pm

Apple crates stacked at G&G Orchards in 2006. (Photo by Jeff T. Green/Getty Images)

The owners of two Yakima orchards have paid $500,000 in back wages to over 400 farmworkers, settling a yearslong lawsuit brought by the state. 

The settlement comes after a Department of Labor and Industries investigation found that workers at G&G Orchards Inc. and RC Orchards LLC weren’t paid properly for the fruit they harvested between 2018 and 2021. The investigation prompted the state Attorney General’s Office to file a lawsuit against owners Rene and Carmen Garcia in 2021. 

“Farmworkers do backbreaking work, and they deserve to be paid every dollar they earn,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. 

Under the orchards’ employment contract, workers were owed either the piece rate for fruit they harvested or an hourly rate – whatever was higher, according to a news release. They were also owed for the time spent on the job waiting for machines to be repaired. 

The Garcias and the state reached a settlement this spring. Along with the $500,000 payment, the settlement requires the owners to provide a detailed payroll report from 2022 to the department, conduct self-audits every six months through 2024 and immediately change their record-keeping so documents include all hours worked for all employees. 

In 2021, the Garcias told the Yakima Herald-Republic that they believed they were following their contract with H-2A temporary workers and that they felt they may have been targeted because they were Hispanic. “They are trying to make an example out of us,” Carmen Garcia said at the time. 

It’s not the only lawsuit that the Garcias faced for inproper pay practices. In 2020, the Seattle-based Northwest Justice Project reached a settlement with the owners in a separate lawsuit, resulting in $240,000 in wages and damages given to seven H-2A workers.

The latest settlement includes funds to distribute back pay to foreign workers who may be difficult to locate. Joel Sacks, director of the Department of Labor and Industries, said the agency will make “extensive efforts” to contact those employees.

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Laurel Demkovich
Laurel Demkovich

Laurel joined States Newsroom in 2023 after almost three years as a statehouse reporter for the Spokesman-Review. She covers state government, the Legislature and all other Olympia news.