KIRO-TV (Seattle)

January 25, 2018

 

Lawsuit filed for farmworkers fired after protesting unsafe conditions

 

By Amy Clancy

 

A lawsuit was filed Thursday on behalf of 70 farmworkers fired for protesting conditions after a co-worker’s death in Sumas last summer.

The class-action suit represents over 600 H-2A workers employed at Sarbanand Farms, just south of the U.S.-Canada border in Whatcom County.

According to the complaint, the workers were forced to labor in the fields more than 12 hours a day, with insufficient food and water, and no shade.

All were hired to pick blueberries and were in the U.S. legally, on H-2A visas.

When Honesta Silva was taken away by ambulance and later died at Harborview Medical Center,  his co-workers demanded answers, staged a one-day walkout  – and were fired.

Attorney Joe Morrison of Columbia Legal Services said the workers were threatened and intimidated by management from Sarbanand Farms and parent company Munger Brothers from the very beginning:

“When the H-2A workers arrived in Washington in early July of 2017, the company had a mandatory meeting where a top management official informed them they would have to be in the field, working every day, quote, ‘unless they were on their death bed.’”

The complaint alleges Sarbanand Farms and Munger Brothers used illegal intimidation tactics to scare the workers into complying, violating the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act and state labor laws.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages yet to be determined and a guarantee to protect H-2A workers in the future.

“We believe that all workers deserve dignity and respect,” Morrison said.

KIRO 7 left messages with employees at Sarbanand Farms and Munger Brothers, seeking comment.  Their statement in full is below:

Munger Bros., LLC and Sarbanand Farms, LLC have been unjustly charged in a lawsuit regarding Sarbanand’s H-2A worker program in Washington state. The companies will vigorously fight the allegations in the complaint, which will be shown to be untrue and without merit. 
 
The facts are that operations at the Sarbanand farm in Washington are exemplary. They include modern housing, dining and worker facilities for the H-2A workers. All employees are treated well and are paid well.  
 
All the Munger companies take seriously their responsibilities with respect to worker safety and they are committed to the wellbeing of every one of their workers. With an ongoing goal of the companies being to comply with all laws and regulations governing the workplace, they also have comprehensive compliance programs in place. 
 
Because of the pending litigation, the companies are not in the position to comment further at the present time on this matter.