A labor group has filed a federal complaint against a Central Washington fruit packer, claiming the company has interfered with attempts to organize workers.
The allegations of unfair labor practices are entangled with whether workers at Allan Bros. Fruit of Naches and other Yakima area packing plants are being adequately protected from COVID-19. The workers' attorney, Lori Isley of Columbia Legal Services, said employees are concerned about both their safety and rights to organize.
According to one allegation, the company gave the workers a pay raise this month to deter a walkout. Isley said the $1 an hour raise for hazardous duty was a ploy to undermine negotiations on other issues.
"That interferes with the ability of the workers to address broader problems," she said.
The complaint was filed by Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia, a committee of Allan Bros. workers. Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farmworker union based in Skagit County in Western Washington, is supporting the workers.
The allegations were described briefly in the complaint. Besides hiking pay to sidetrack collective action, the complaint accuses the company of threatening employees or promising benefits to dissuade individuals from walking out. One worker was allegedly disciplined for providing water to co-workers who had walked out.
The National Labor Relations Board investigates all charges of unfair labor practices and initiated a probe Wednesday.
Efforts to obtain comment from the company Thursday were unsuccessful.
Some workers at six Yakima area packing plants have been striking since May 7. The packers shipped out roughly the same volume of fruit during the first week of the strikes as the week before, according to the Washington Tree Fruit Association.
"It hasn't really affected the industry's ability to keep moving fruit," the association's president, Jon DeVaney, said.
Allan Bros. has 350 employees, according to the complaint, and 34 were on strike Thursday, Familias political director Edgar Franks said.
The strike has broader support among workers, but many weren't able to stick out a two-week strike, he said. "Some folks basically can't survive, pay rent," he said.
Franks said workers are seeking $2 an hour for hazardous pay and remain concerned about safety measures.
"The workers have been saying from the get-go they want protection in the workplace," he said. "There has been some positive movements with some of the negotiations."
The state Department of Labor and Industries has issued rules to keep COVID-19 from spreading among workers in fruit packing plants. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to add to L&I's rules. The rules may be out next week, a governor's spokeswoman said Thursday.
L&I inspected Allan Bros. this week after receiving several calls about issues such as physically distancing and a lack of soap and water, a department spokesman said in an email. A report on the investigation has not been finalized, he said.