OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Washington Supreme Court Thursday weighed in on long-running case that has implications for labor shortages at Northwest farms and orchards. The high court unanimously upheld a costly damage award against a farm labor contractor that brought in guest workers from Thailand.
In 2005, Columbia Legal Services filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 650 Latino farm workers who lost work at two Yakima Valley orchards. The local farmhands were replaced by cheaper guest workers imported from Thailand.
A federal court jury decided that was illegal.
In the latest twist, the Washington Supreme Court was asked by a panel of federal judges what the amount of damages should be. In a unanimous ruling, the justices read the law to say nearly $2 million in this case.
In court filings, growers groups warned that a large damage award would make farmers fearful of using labor contractors and thereby worsen farm labor shortages.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs says this case demonstrates there are many farm workers “ready to work here.”
All sides say this case has at least several more steps to go in the federal courts before it’s resolved.
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