Aug 30, 2012Farm bureau and state officials blast ‘heavy handed’ federal labor investigations
In late July, investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor visited three blueberry farms in Marion County and announced finding “widespread”record-keeping and minimum wage violations at each.
Farm labor law investigations are often contentious, especially involving fruit pickers working on a “piece rate”basis rather than an hourly wage. But these cases took an unusual turn as the labor department’s Wage and Hour Division staff in Portland dropped the hammer.
In a move Oregon’s congressional delegation and the Oregon Farm Bureau say was unprecedented and deeply unfair, the department invoked a “hot goods”provision of labor law that prohibited shipment of the berries. Labor officials also notified wholesalers that berries from the farms would be subject to the order and should not be processed or shipped.
Suddenly, the growers were stuck holding perishable berries worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The labor department offered a way out: Pay a fine and back wages and sign a consent judgment admitting wrong and agreeing not to contest the order even if subsequent information exonerated the farms. The Oregonian
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