Two Yakima orchards settle years-long lawsuit with Washington AG

After an investigation found that hundreds of workers at G&G Orchards and RC Orchards LLC were not paid properly, they will receive $500,000 in back wages.

Cherries hanging on a tree

 Ripe cherries hang off a tree at an orchard in  Wapato, WA, on June 26, 2019. (Jen Dev/Crosscut)

More than 400 workers will receive $500,000 in back wages and interest from two Yakima cherry and apple orchard owners under a settlement in a years-long lawsuit brought by the state Attorney General’s Office. 

An investigation by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries found that workers at G&G Orchards and RC Orchards LLC were not paid properly for fruit harvested between 2018 and 2021. 

During their investigation, L&I officials found that workers should have been paid a higher amount, at either a piece rate for fruit picked or an hourly rate. Workers were also owed for time spent on the job site waiting for machines to be repaired. 

“It is important to hold employers accountable for paying workers what they are owed,” said L&I director Joel Sacks in a news release. “Employers make a commitment to pay for a worker’s time and labor, and this payment reflects a lot of hard work to make sure that promise was kept.”

In a news release, L&I said orchard owners Rene and Carmen Garcia provided known addresses and phone numbers for those who worked for the two orchards from 2018 to 2021. L&I will notify each worker about the settlement. Employees can also call L&I at 360-902-4920 about the settlement. 

The Attorney General filed the lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court in 2021. In an interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic, the Garcias disputed the claims and said they would fight the lawsuit. Both said they felt they were targeted because they were Latino. 

All parties agreed to the current settlement following mediation last spring. 

In addition to the back pay for those employed from 2018 to 2021, L&I is requiring a payroll report and timesheets for workers from 2022. L&I is reviewing those documents, which the Garcias have submitted, to determine whether they owe workers any additional back wages. 

Under the settlement, the Garcias will also be required to have a third party conduct a self-audit every six months through the end of 2024 to document compliance with wage laws, and change record-keeping practices so all documents noting employee hours worked include daily piece-rate earnings and required meal and rest breaks. 

In 2020, the Garcias were also the target of a separate settlement for a lawsuit filed by the Seattle-based Northwest Justice Project. The organization filed suit for back wages for seven workers on the H-2A visa program, who eventually received $240,000 in wages and damages.

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