Farm Labor Bill Will Increase Harmful Lawsuits, Hurt Consumers and Make It Harder for Farmers to Get Needed Employees

  • February 3, 2020

Anti-farm legislation will hurt farmers, those who enjoy local food, and the valuable farm employees who grow that food

UPDATE: Before this bill passed the Senate, on Feb. 20, the presumption of guilt on the farmer was removed, as were the sections related to retaliation.

A farm labor bill sponsored by Senators John McCoy and Rebecca Saldaña is a solution looking for a problem and only serves to make it harder for farmers to stay in business. Farmers aren’t the only ones hurt by this. When an increase in lawsuits force farmers out of business, those who appreciate local, Washington-grown food are also impacted. Worse, farm employees who depend on the income from their jobs will lose the opportunity to support their families.

Some proponents of the bill want to reduce the number of workers available to farmers. This would allow them to get union contracts that allow them to take money from the farmworkers’ paychecks, despite the fact that the farmworkers never asked for this. Unfortunately, the pursuit of this income-generating agenda has consistently provided outrageously false accusations against farmers. A number of attorneys whose business focuses on suing farmers are also supporting the bill. Senators McCoy, Saldaña and the other sponsors are ignoring the dishonesty and profit-driven agenda behind this bill.

These groups, with the support of these Senators unconcerned about the future of farming, want to see the guest worker program ended or make it far harder for farmers to hire guest workers. What do the guest workers themselves say about this? Temporary work to help with harvest is a life-changing experience for these workers, providing pay that is 20 to 30 times more than what they can earn in their own countries. Hear their stories in their own words here.

Supporters say that farmers should be forced to rehire employees even if the employee has proven to be ineffective or harmful to the farm. Why should every other employer be allowed to hire good workers and not hire bad workers – except farmers? Current farm labor laws are more protective of workers than just about any other form of employment. This bill unfairly targets farmers, taking the control of their own businesses out of their hands.

Farmers are already being driven out of business by lawsuits that are often called “sue and settle”. Because defending yourself in court is extremely expensive, unscrupulous lawyers sue for the purpose of forcing the farmer to settle out of court and pay massive attorney’s fees. Settlement money from so-called “citizen lawsuits” even finds its way back into the coffers of the “citizen” groups these attorneys represent. This is happening far too often, particularly against family dairy farms in our state.

Now the McCoy-Saldaña legislation will pave the way for far more lawsuits against farmers. In their version of the bill, they even turned American justice on its head by saying that any farmer who fires an employee would be presumed to be guilty of retaliation. Only farmers, these legislators apparently believe, are terrible enough for them to assume that the principle of innocent until proven guilty should not apply. Apparently they also believe that it is not possible for farm employees to do anything that would justify their dismissal. More reasonable voices have worked on taking that language out, but what remains will still result in far more expensive lawsuits against farmers and more millions in legal fees paid to lawyers.

In the last legislative session these same two Senators tried to pass a bill that would require farmers to report owning slaves. Read the report if you don’t believe it. It seems that they are continuing their attacks against farmers this time around.

We don’t know why these Senators would believe those who have such obvious financial motives behind these anti-farm bills, particularly when they have been shown to be consistently false in their accusations against farmers. Perhaps they think the lawyers that they are representing will grow the food we need after they have driven our farmers out of business?

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