YAKIMA, WA.- A federal judge has granted class-action status to a group of farm workers who claim that Mercer Canyons, one of the largest fruit and vegetable growers on the West Coast denied employment to domestic workers in favor of imported guest workers.
Here in the Yakima Valley agriculture provides work for thousands of American citizens, but according to two local workers who filed the lawsuit Mercer Canyon did not give first priority to American workers looking for jobs, they instead used the H-2A program to hire foreign workers.
The H-2A foreign program is used during labor shortages, it's a program growers can use to hire foreign workers.
“Under the program farmers can get permission to hire someone from another country under that temporary visa if and only if American workers don't want the jobs,” Mike Dempler, Executive Director of the WA Growers League, explained.
According to two Yakima men they went to mercer canyon back in 2013 looking for jobs, however they were told there were none available.
They're now claiming Mercer Canyons did not inform them of vineyard jobs, which is required by Federal, law and instead sought foreign employees.
We spoke with attorney Lori Esley, who's working on the case; she says hundreds of workers were affected by the company's alleged deceptive actions.
If companies are going to use the program, they have to play by the rules.
“These are hard working families in our valley they built these orchards and vineyards and they're just asking their employers to play by the rules.”
The lawsuit isn't expected to go to trial until August, but attorneys are hoping the jury will recognize the hundreds of workers affected by the company's unfair practices.
“We're hoping that the jury will award the families in this case the damages they're seeking; the message is pretty simple employers using the H-2A program need to comply with the rules,” Esley said.