Olympian reports U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. temporarily stopped the Department of Labor from implementing a July order raising wages for pickers. Zirkle Fruit southeast of Seattle sued to prevent the government from starting the new wage structure.
Zirkle was issued a mandate on July 24 to boost wages for H-2A blueberry pickers told to pay workers 75 cents a pound; workers received 50 cents in 2018. The average hourly rate for blueberry pickers was $17.13 at the 50-cent rate, the company said.
The government notified Zirkle of the new pay rate on July 24, a day after the increase actually took effect. Zirkle said it was blindsided by the mid-harvest pay hike. The blueberry harvest began in June and continues through September.
According to the lawsuit, "This unilateral, midseason 50 percent wage hike will likely result in Zirkle declining to harvest significant amounts of blueberries, which will put hundreds of farm workers out of work, and will likely eliminate hand-picking from its 2020 production."
As reported by oregonlive.com, Zirkle sued in the US District Court of Eastern Washington saying it would come at an estimated extra cost of $1.4 million.