Gebbers Farms, L&I reach settlement over 2020 COVID deaths

Settlement over $2 million for farmworker improvements

Cass Gebbers
BREWSTER – Gebbers Farms and the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) have reached a settlement stemming from fines and citations levied by L&I last year following COVID-19-related farmworker deaths. Under terms of the mediated agreement Gebbers will invest more than $2 million for housing, health care, and safety of its farm labor force.
In the original action initiated last July 2020 L&I assessed a $2.06 million fine after two Gebbers farmworkers died from COVID-19 and cited the farm for a half dozen related violations.
Gebbers Farms spokesperson Amy Philpott of Watson Green, LLC noted in her statement that prior to the L&I action Gebbers had already implemented COVID-response protocols that it developed in consultation with an infectious disease specialist. 
“Gebbers Farms has always cared deeply about the well-being and safety of its workers,” said Cass Gebbers, CEO of Gebbers Farms. “Each year, Gebbers Farms makes improvements to its temporary housing facilities to enhance the safety and comfort of its workers. This mediation agreement will result in even more improvements, and it will benefit the community at large through the farm’s donations to community charities and non-profits.”
 
Under the terms of the mediation agreement, Gebbers Farms will invest approximately $1.4 million to improve workers’ facilities that include:
 
● Entirely new farmworker housing to include demolishing and rebuilding one of the older housing camps originally built in the 1970s. 
“This camp has separate sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities and consistently requires corrective actions to meet minimum licensing requirements,” said the L&I assessment. “Three new units with all new amenities will be built in its place.”
 
● Constructing a cell tower to improve workers’ communications with families.
 
● Upgrading electrical systems to support washing machines and dryers.
 
● Installing air conditioners and making power upgrades.
 
● Purchasing new mattresses for temporary worker housing.
 
● Building and maintaining sports/recreation facilities including a soccer field, picnic tables, and benches.
● Installing signage at housing camps to help emergency responders locate them.
● Payment of a $10,000 fine.
 
As part of the settlement Gebbers Farms agrees to allocate $150,000 to hire a full-time safety officer for three years who will oversee worker safety and health issues including development and implementation of Gebbers Farms’ existing and new worker safety programs. The safety officer will be empowered to stop any activity deemed unsafe or in violation of the safety and health rules.
 
The company will also donate $513,000 to area hospitals, health care centers, emergency medical services, day care and recreational centers serving the workers and their families to improve health care access for them.
 
“Although we are pleased this issue is resolved, we have not forgotten the thousands who lost loved ones during this pandemic,” said Gebbers. “Sadly, in 2020, Gebbers Farms also lost longtime team members and familiar faces to our family. These men, their families, and all Gebbers employees are part of the reason why we are gratified that the agreement includes our continued investment in our workers and our local communities.”
 
An L&I media release noted the benefits of reaching the settlement.
 
“Because a court could not order Gebbers to make these changes, this is a better result for workers than we could have achieved through litigation," said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “Instead of possibly spending years and taxpayer resources in court to potentially collect fines, this settlement means the company will put significant money where it will help the most: improving health, safety, and quality of life for farmworkers and their families. Real, on-the-ground improvements for farmworkers and their families are a fitting way to honor the memories of the Gebbers' workers who died." 
 

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