Lawyers representing several Washington apple producers who are challenging the federal government’s midseason picker compensation payment mandate are performing their own wage surveys to boost their case.
On forms called “declarations,” the attorneys in Yakima and Wenatchee are collecting information from growers about the volume of apples they harvested in 2018, what percentage of that volume was Honeycrisp and how much they paid their workers to pick Honeycrisp and other varieties.
The attorneys — Brendan Monahan of the Stokes Lawrence firm in Yakima and Peter Spadoni of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn and Aylward in Wenatchee — plan to use those declarations in two lawsuits on behalf of their producer clients against the U.S. Department of Labor over prevailing wage increases.
In July this year, the Department of Labor announced prevailing wage rates of $16 per hour for workers harvesting all high-density apples. That’s nearly a dollar higher than the 2019 $15.03 Adverse Effect Wage Rate, or AEWR, required for all growers using contracted H-2A workers. Growers must pay the higher of the two.
Prevailing wage mandates this year are based on wage surveys by state workforce agencies — in Washington’s case the Employment Security Department — from the previous year, Monahan said. The 2018 AEWR was $14.12 per hour, and the prevailing wage for Honeycrisp apples was $15 per hour.
The attorneys hope the declarations about 2018’s wages will prove that those rates were too high then, by extension making this year’s mandates too high, as well, Monahan said.
Both lawsuits are in U.S. District Court, the Eastern Washington District, in front of Judge Salvador Mendoza. Monahan represents Zirkle Fruit. Spadoni represents Evans Fruit Co., WGE Holdings LLC, McDougall Family Farming Inc., McDougall & Sons Inc., Double S Orchards LLC, Columbia Fruit Packers Inc., Columbia Orchard Management Inc. and Wade & Wade LLC.
Growers who want to be included in the declarations should call or email Bruce Grim, a retired industry official helping with the case, at 509-669-1395 or Gr8apls@aol.com.
by Ross Courtney