By Associated Press - Friday, May 22, 2020

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - Workers have filed an unfair labor practices complaint claiming a Washington state fruit packing company retaliated against those who chose to strike during the coronavirus pandemic.

Allan Brothers Fruit employees filed the complaint earlier this week to the National Labor Relations Board, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

The complaint claims the Naches-based company interrogated and threatened workers who joined the strike, and used one-on-one conversations with employees promising increased benefits or wage hikes for nonstrikers in an attempt to stop the walkout.

Company CEO Miles Kohl denied the allegations Thursday, saying the company has “every interest and desire to maintain a healthy community and treat our employees with the respect, care and attention they deserve.”

Kohl said their operations are vital to the nation’s food supply, but “we understand and value our workers’ right to protest.”

Workers walked out May 7 demanding increased transparency about COVID-19 cases, improved safety and sanitation measures and hazard pay, officials said. It was the first of many walkouts at seven different fruit packing plants in Yakima County.

Protests continued Thursday.

Kohl argued employees received an additional $1 an hour effective May 5, were provided face masks and shields and told their jobs would be held for those who wanted to return to work to compensate workers for conditions caused by the pandemic.

The complaint contends that providing appreciation pay to essential workers violated their right to strike, which was not the intent, Kohl said.

The state Department of Labor and Industries said Allan Brothers Fruit has met health and safety standards.

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