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Sakuma Brothers Farms To Pay $500,000 To Berry Pickers

Bellamy Pailthorp
File image of berry pickers at work at Sakuma Brothers Farms.

Sakuma Brothers Farms, one of Washington state’s largest berry farms, has agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a lawsuit filed its workers.

The berry pickers sued last year, alleging they were denied rest breaks and weren’t paid for all the hours they worked. The lawyers representing the pickers said this is the state's largest settlement involving farmworker wages and hours on record.

“We believe that a lot of growers are trying to pay their workers correctly and legally, but for those who aren’t paying correctly, they should know that farmworkers have recourse to the legal system like anyone else, and they can receive a measure of justice,” said Dan Ford, an attorney representing the workers, with Columbia Legal Services.

A judge must approve the settlement proposal, under which $500,000 will be split among all the workers who submit claims based on the number of days each has worked. Ford said about 1,200 workers are eligible to receive a part of the settlement.

The farm has also agreed to make changes in its working conditions, including eliminating unpaid work and providing rest breaks.

In a statement issued Wednesday, farm owners said they decided to settle even though they "could have continued to fight this in court and believe we would have prevailed."

"But that would have cost millions of dollars and taken years to resolve. The reality is that while this agreement amount may seem large, nearly half of it was demanded as fees for the workers' attorneys. We felt it was in our company’s best interest to settle this issue now so we could focus our attention on farming strawberries," the statement said. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.