By Associated Press - Wednesday, October 29, 2014

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) - A Burlington berry farm violated labor and tenant laws by banning visitors from farmworker housing, a Skagit County Superior Court judge ruled.

Judge Susan K. Cook told Sakuma Bros. Farms to remove the policy from the employee handbook. The ruling Tuesday was a victory for a farmworker group, Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, the Salem, Oregon-based Capital Press reported Wednesday ( ).

The group argued the policy violated workers’ privacy and was retaliation for union activity.

The policy kept farmworkers from entertaining relatives, friends or union organizers, said the group’s lawyer, Kathy Barnard.

Farm CEO and co-owner Steve Sakuma said the rule aimed to create a peaceful, safe environment. The farm can live with the decision that will take effect next year. Workers are gone for this season.

Sakuma has faced lawsuits, periodic labor stoppages and calls for a boycott for more than a year.

In June, Cook ruled that the company couldn’t ban non-working family members from living in employee housing. Last spring, the farm agreed to pay workers $500,000 in back pay to settle a federal lawsuit.

The deal didn’t resolve whether piece-rate workers must be paid for rest breaks, an issue the state’s Supreme Court could take up next year. Employee lawyers predict a ruling could affect 130,000 Washington farmworkers.

Sakuma and Familias Unidas also have clashed over whether the company will hire foreign workers on temporary visas.

The farm will consider applying to hire H-2A workers for 2015.

“It is the only option for a stable, legal workforce,” Sakuma said. “There is a dwindling supply of migrant seasonal labor.”

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