East Wenatchee Fruit Grower Selling Business Over Labor Penalties
The owner of an East Wenatchee fruit growing business is selling the company after being banned from a program that lets employers hire temporary foreign workers
Good Fruit Grower magazine reports Welton Orchards and Storage CEO Gene Welton will sell the company to avoid the legal costs of challenging allegations it mistreated workers.
Welton is reportedly also selling the business because of economic challenges facing the fruit industry.
The Labor Department announced late last month it was barring Welton from the worker program for allegedly threatening workers, maintaining unsafe living conditions and not paying all visa and travel costs.
Good Fruit Grower reports Welton believes the legal system is biased against himself and other fruit growing businesses.
“The worker can get all the free lawyers they want,” Welton said, “… the employer has nothing to back him.”
Welton Orchards, which grows apples, cherries and pears is being banned from using the H-2A foreign visa program for three years. It's also being fined more than $64,000 by the Labor Department.
In addition, the department says it's recovered about $7,500 in unpaid wages to 26 workers.
The company last year was scheduled to have 24 H-2A workers but ended up with 12, according to Welton. It has not attempted to hire any H-2A workers this year.
“Anybody that’s a small farmer and is going to use them, be careful, because they’ll get you,” Welton told Good Fruit Growers. “That’s my word of warning to these small growers. They’re going to find everything they can to nail you.”
According to a release from the Labor Department, the violations against Welton Orchards included not meeting safety and health requirements for housing, failing to pay workers for inbound and outbound transportation from their home countries, not offering the work hours detailed in workers’ contracts (which left workers unable to provide for themselves for months at a time), failing to contact U.S. workers in its recruiting efforts, and not paying visa-related fees to several workers.