Don Jenkins/Capital Press
Washington berry grower Sakuma Brothers Farms will challenge penalties levied by the U.S. Department of Labor over years-old allegations that it violated the H-2A visa program, according to the company and government documents.
The Skagit County farm was assessed $123,825 in civil penalties and charged an additional $9,599 in back wages to an eligible U.S. worker who was not hired and to workers who drove buses that brought workers to the farm, according to the labor department.
The penalties were finalized in April last year, according to department records. The labor department issued a press release Tuesday announcing it was filing suit, but did not report the time frame. The department was unable to provide a copy of the suit referred to in the press release.
Sakuma appealed the penalty last May. Department lawyers in February submitted the case to an administrative judge within the department.
Sakuma President and CEO Danny Weeden said in an email that the labor department’s press release referred to an issue that dates back to 2013.
“Sakuma Brothers dispute factual and legal allegations made by the Department of Labor. This unresolved dispute is over four years old,” Weeden stated.
The department also assessed a $750 penalty against the Washington State Farm Labor Association, or WAFLA. Efforts to reach the organization, which helps farms hire foreign workers, were unsuccessful.
In the press release, the labor department alleged Sakuma gave unlawful preferential treatment to the foreign workers and rejected qualified U.S. applicants.
The farm charged U.S. workers additional housing deposits and did not provide household goods given to foreign workers, according to the labor department. U.S. workers also were not provided the same transportation to fields, and the housing provided to the workers did not meet federal healthy and safety standards, according to the department.
The labor department said the farm has changed its employment practices and no longer participates in the H-2A program.
Sakuma had been the target of a boycott and a class-action federal lawsuit alleging unfair pay practices.
The farm sought to settle labor disputes and signed a contract in June with a workers’ union, Familias por la Justicia.