Washington apple farms sue federal government over unexpected wage hikes

Evans Fruit Co. and other Washington-based apple farms are suing the U.S. Department of Labor over its decision to unexpectedly increase pay requirements for agricultural employees working on H2A permits.

The H2A program provides a nonimmigrant visas to non-citizens wanting to enter the U.S. to work in temporary or seasonal agriculture positions.  

On July 24, the department put growers on notice that they would immediately have to start paying H2A workers 97 cents more an hour, a decision growers argue will have an adverse impact on their businesses. 

"Enforcing this $0.97 per hour base wage rate jump will cause [farms] to suffer irreparable harm and create an unsustainable increase in labor costs for the 2019 apple harvesting season and into the future," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington by Cowiche-based Evans Fruit Co. and two Wenatchee-based farms, McDougall Family Farming, Inc. and Columbia Fruit Packers, Inc.

According to documents from the department, the new wage was calculated using an annual survey of agricultural employees in the state. 

The lawsuit argues the survey was not representative of what workers are actually being paid at the majority of farms and lead to problems with the calculations. 

"[The new rate] was the result of an inadequate and procedurally deficient sampling and inaccurate extrapolations of data from what appears to be an extreme minority of apple producers and farm labor apple harvesters," the lawsuit said. 

The farms are asking the court to put the order on hold until they can sort everything out in the courtroom.

*This story has been updated to clarify that the ruling is regarding H2A workers. 

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