The Seattle Times reports that a lawsuit against a major blueberry grower and recruiting company alleges that some 600 Mexican workers brought to a Whatcom County farm were subject to threats and intimidation that violated human tafficking. The case involves workers brought to the U.S. through the H-2A program.

The grower denied the allegations in the lawsuit that was filed Thursday.

From The Times article:

The lawsuit comes in the aftermath of a tense summer harvest at the farm near Sumasduring which one man became and ill and died, and dozens of workers then launched a one-day protest of harsh conditions that ended with their termination and eviction from the farm.

Blueberries photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle names as defendants California-based Munger Bros., which describes itself as the largest blueberry producer in North America, Munger’s Whatcom County subsidiary Sarbanand Farms, and CSI Visa Processing.

The lawsuit alleges that a farm manager told workers that they had to be in the fields every day “unless they were on their death bed.” It does not allege that the worker’s death, which is now under investigation by state officials, resulted from the labor conditions. But it does cite workplace problems at the farm that included paltry, insufficient meals and water shortages during hot days of hard labor.

The lawsuit also alleges that CSI recruited the workers without a license required by state law, and failed to disclose unlawful hourly production standards.

The companies said the allegations were without merit.

Tom Pedreira, a Washingon attorney representing Sarbanand Farms and Munger, released a written statement that said the companies have been unjustly charged, and “will vigorously fight the allegations in the complaint, which will be shown to be untrue and without merit.”

“The facts are that operations at the Sarbanand farm in Washington are exemplary. They include modern housing, dining and worker facilities for the H-2A workers. All employees are treated well and are paid well …” the statement said.

Here’s a link to the complete article.