Gebbers Farms, a north-central Washington tree fruit grower, has appealed a $2 million fine issued by the Department of Labor and Industries for coronavirus-safety regulations.
The farm filed the appeal to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, which hears challenges to L&I penalties. The deadline to appeal was Wednesday.
L&I said Gebbers violated housing and transportation rules over a 12-day period in July, potentially exposing 2,700 foreign guest workers to the coronavirus. Two workers who lived in farm housing died of COVID-19.
Gebbers said it consulted an outside expert before the harvest season and developed a plan to keep workers safe.
At the order of the state, some 3,000 Gebbers workers were tested for COVID-19 in the late summer and less than 1% tested positive, a lower rate than the general population of Okanogan County.
Gebbers said in a statement Monday that the farm shared L&I’s goal to protect workers.
“While we cannot comment on the alleged July 2020 violations because of pending litigation, our decision to appeal the state’s allegations is rooted in the truth that Gebbers farms took extraordinary measures to keep employees safe while they were at work and 99.3% of our entire workforce tested negative for the virus,” the farm stated.
The large fine stemmed from transporting workers in a bus and housing workers in bunk beds. To prevent the virus from spreading, Gebbers isolated workers in groups of 42, while the state limited “cohorts” to 15 workers.
The farm has been in compliance with the state rules since July 27.
The farm was fined $7,200 for not immediately notifying L&I of one worker’s death. The farm said the man died in a hospital and that it didn’t learn of the death until several days later.
Gebbers also was penalized for not having toilet paper or hand-washing stations at all field bathrooms.