Sarbanand Farms

Striking farmworkers show their visas after being fired by Sarbanand Farms in Whatcom County, Wash. The owners of the farm have reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor over several worker-related issues.

California-based Munger Bros., owners of a Western Washington blueberry farm, have agreed to a $3.5 million settlement with the U.S. Labor Department over allegations it poorly housed, unsafely transported and underpaid some 3,200 employees while also unlawfully preferring to hire foreign over U.S. workers.

Munger will pay a $1 million fine and $2.5 million in back wages, according to a judgment filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern California.

The settlement prohibits the company from using H-2 workers for three years at its farm and blueberry packing plant, Crowne Cold Storage, in Delano, Calif., and Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Wash.

Although part of the recent settlement, the suspension took effect last spring, according to court records.

In a court filing, the Labor Department accused Munger of providing housing to H-2A workers that was infested with bed bugs, had metal bars over windows, and inoperable toilets and smoke alarms. Workers were allegedly transported in vehicles with bald tires, according to the complaint.

“This case demonstrates our commitment to safeguard American jobs, level the playing field for law-abiding employers and protect workers from being paid less than they are legally owed,” Cheryl M. Stanton, Labor Department wage and hour administrator, said in a statement Monday.

Munger admitted no wrongdoing.

“We have accepted the consent agreement. The Department of Labor has presented a novel theory that has been never used before, but our obligations to our employees, customers and the community motivated us to comply with the settlement,” the company said in a statement.

The company declined to elaborate on what it meant by “novel theory.”

In a separate court action, Sarbanand Farms faces a class-action lawsuit by some 600 foreign workers in federal court in Western Washington.

The suit alleges that about 70 workers were illegally fired in 2017 for staging a one-day walkout. They and other workers were intimidated into laboring while sick and pressured to pick an unrealistic amount of berries, the suit alleges.

Munger denies all allegations and is fighting the lawsuit.

{p class=”p1”}The workers walked out because they were concerned about the condition of a co-worker who fell ill, according to court records. The worker died later at a Seattle hospital.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries ruled the death was not workplace related, but fined the farm nearly $150,000 for missed rest breaks and serving meals late. On appeal, a judge cut the penalty in half.

The settlement with the Labor Department will require Munger to advertise on the radio for U.S. workers.

The company will also have to pay workers for the time they spend traveling between job sites, according to the settlement.

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