SPOKANE – Outlook orchardists are being accused of under paying their employees. A lawsuit against Upland Vineyards was filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District yesterday.
Cherry pickers, represented by Columbia Legal Services in Yakima, have filed a class action lawsuit against the Outlook farm, claiming the wages promised them were not the wages paid in 2014.
According to court documents, the workers are also claiming they were not paid for rest breaks during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 cherry harvest seasons.
“Plaintiffs are migrant and seasonal farmworkers who were discharged by their former employer, Upland Vineyards, in retaliation for asserting their legal rights on June 10, 2014,” attorneys assert in the complaint submitted to the district court.
Named as the primary plaintiff was Ulises Alvarez, a resident of Yakima County.
“Farm workers work hard to earn as much as they can for their families during harvest time, and growers cannot lower the promised piece rate without the consent of the workers,” Alvarez said in a press release issued by his attorneys.
According to Alvarez, he was assigned to a crew of about 19 workers during June 2014. It is estimated approximately 100 cherry pickers were working at Upland Vineyards at the time.
Before the crews began picking cherries, Alvarez claims in court documents they were informed by a foreman they would be paid $3.25 per bucket of cherries picked.
“Four days later, the supervisor unilaterally lowered the piece rate by verbally telling the workers the company would only be paying $2.75 per bucket in the next cherry block,” attorneys explain in court documents.
The workers, according to documents, did not want the rate to be lowered. Attorneys say Alvarez and his crew asked the supervisor to clarify the change with the owners.
According to the attorneys for the plaintiffs, Todd and Nick Newhouse, named as the owners, told the workers their company “…could pay whatever they wanted to pay, and if the gathered workers were not going to work at the lowered price, they could leave.”
The pickers were displeased and wanted to be paid at the wage they were originally promised, according to court records.
The plaintiffs report the owners told the workers they were fired after stating California workers would do the work at the lower price.
The claim also says one of the owners threatened to call the sheriff to have the workers removed from the property.
Alvarez claims he began to call government authorities for information about workplace rights and was grabbed by one of the owners. According to the court documents, the owner was attempting to physically remove Alvarez from the property.
In addition to the wage dispute, and lack of paid rest breaks claimed in the court records, the lawsuit also states Upland Vineyards failed to maintain accurate payroll records for 2012 through 2014.
Attorney David Solis of Columbia Legal Services said, “This case is important to protect the right of farm workers to join together to enforce promised wages and protect themselves from unfair labor practices.”
Todd Newhouse was contacted and chose not to comment on the pending case.