Seattle, WA, July 16, 2015 – Washington Supreme Court announced a unanimous decision today in favor of our clients, farm workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms, who will be entitled to receive payment for rest breaks that is over and above their piece rate compensation at the worker’s regular rate or the minimum wage, whichever is greater. The decision will impact workers across the state who are compensated on a piece rate basis (e.g., an amount per pound). The Court said its interpretation was necessary to provide workers with an incentive to take breaks that are necessary for their safety and health. Read the opinion here.
November 14, 2014 – Under a settlement agreement submitted to federal court for approval, Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. has agreed to pay a total of $850,000 and to change certain employment practices the workers alleged were unlawful. This case is the largest farm worker wage and hour class action settlement on record in Washington State. Farm workers charged that for years, Sakuma Brothers Farms failed to pay them for all hours worked, did not provide required rest breaks, and failed to accurately disclose their hours worked, making it impossible for workers to determine whether they were being paid minimum wage.
The agreement entitles migrant and seasonal workers to share in the settlement funds if they worked piece rate harvesting strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries at Sakuma Brothers between October 23, 2010 and December 31, 2013. The parties estimate that the settlement class will be approximately 1,200 farm workers. If the settlement is approved, $500,000 will be divided proportionally between all workers who submit valid claims, based on the number of days each person worked.
The settlement also provides for changes in Sakuma Brothers’ employment practices and improvements in working conditions, including elimination of alleged unpaid work, provision of rest breaks, and provision of accurate information to workers on wages and hours.
The case was filed in Federal Court District Court in the Western District of Washington on October 24, 2013. Ana Lopez Demetrio and Francisco Eugenio Paz are the proposed plaintiff class representatives. “This agreement provides fair compensation and improved working conditions. It makes up for their practice of underpaying us and not giving us breaks,” said Francisco Eugenio Paz.
Seasonal and migrant farm workers who harvested fruit for piece-rate wages at Sakuma between October 23, 2010 and December 31, 2013 are encouraged to contact the workers’ attorneys at (855) 713-3147.
Federal District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman granted preliminary approval of the class action settlement on July 16, 2014. Class members have until October 16th, 2014 to submit claims if they wish to participate in the settlement. Class members who submit valid claim forms will receive payments for their portion of the settlement funds
The workers are represented by Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC and Columbia Legal Services.
Photographs by Star Angelina Murray, an artist from the South Sound region of Washington State