An effort to protect Washington farms from unfair farm-ending lawsuits has begun in Olympia, but it faces an uphill battle. Gerald Baron, Save Family Farming Executive Director, joined Dillon Honcoop to explain how the voice of people who support farming is urgently needed right now to stop unconstitutional back-pay lawsuits from bankrupting law-abiding farmers.
For over 70 years, farmers have been obeying the law in terms of how they pay employees, Baron said.
It’s comparable to someone driving the same road for over 70 years, and the speed limit suddenly changing. Which is no big deal, but then they get speeding tickets for the past three years they were driving that road at the old speed limit.
“So they have been paying their employees absolutely correctly, by the law for over 70 years and the Supreme Court says, ‘oh, we’re going to change the speed limit, we’re going to change the law so you can’t pay your employees that way anymore — you have to change how you pay your employees.’ And then these lawyers, including from Los Angeles, come up here and say ‘oh goodie, here’s an opportunity for us to make a lot of money.’ And they now have 24 lawsuits filed against our farms,” Baron said.
The lawyers are claiming because of a November 2020 Washington State Supreme Court ruling, these farms owe three years back pay to their employees.
Baron encourages everyone to go to this website to reach out to legislators to help protect farmers.
“Please, if you care about the future of our farms, if you care that there will be farms around for the next generation now is the time to do something about it,” Baron said.
The court ruling left the door open for lawsuits.
“Right now we have 24 lawsuits against mostly dairy farms, but also an apple farm, an egg farm, and there’s certainly more to come. What these lawyers, like I said including from Los Angeles, from Tacoma, and the Tri-Cities, are wanting to do is make money, because these class action lawsuits pay almost nothing to the victims that they get to sign up for this. Reports show that lawyers total get about 85-99% of the money awarded. So it’s a money game for them. And where’s the money going to come from? From the farmers,” Baron said.
Baron gave the example of one farmer with 99 employees, a substantial amount of workers, would have to pay $2.2 million. What lawyers want to happen is the farms settle outside of court. Farmers wouldn’t have to pay as much, but it would still be a large sum of money that the lawyers would mostly get. And, it leaves the possibility of all farms that utilized the overtime law subject to lawsuits.
“This legislation is the only way we have available to stop this litigation industry from absolutely destroying our farms,” Baron said.
You can listen to the full interview here: