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Farmworkers awarded $1.9-million judgment

July 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

YAKIMA, WASH. — A judge has ordered one of the nation's largest labor contractors and two growers in central Washington's Yakima Valley to pay more than 600 farmworkers nearly $1.9 million in damages for federal labor law violations.

The workers are entitled to about $2,000 to $4,500 each from Global Horizons Inc. of Los Angeles, Valley Fruit Orchards of Wapato, Wash., and Green Acre Farms of Harrah, Wash., under the decision issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Alan A. McDonald.

The class-action suit stemmed mostly from a complaint that the growers, working through Global Horizons, wrongly displaced farmworkers with guest laborers from Thailand in 2004 under a federal program that allows employers to import foreign labor if they can show a lack of local workers.

McDonald ruled there was undisputed evidence of six violations of federal law, including workers being fired for failing to meeting productivity requirements they hadn't been told about, workers not paying a promised rate for pear harvesting, and giving the Thai workers transportation but telling area residents they had to have their own rides to work.

Global Horizons later lost its state business license over other violations, including deducting state income taxes from the Thai workers' paychecks; Washington has no state income tax.

McDonald ordered Global Horizons and owner Mordechai Orian to pay $39,500 for failing to comply with pretrial court orders. The judge warned that Orian would be charged with criminal contempt of court July 24 unless the sanctions are paid.

Global Horizons has had as many as 4,000 farmworkers in 28 states, Orian has said. But Randolph S. Shiner, a lawyer for Global Horizons, said the company was struggling to stay in business and would ask the judge to reconsider his ruling.

Valley Fruit and Green Acre couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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