Fair Labor Standards Act, Housing, Litigation, Regulations & Compliance, Wages

Farming Operation Accused of Cheating Workers

From MyDesert.com, Desert Sun Wire Services, 2 Apr 2012.

RIVERSIDE — A commercial farming operation and four of its contractors face accusations of cheating Coachella Valley-area migrant workers of pay and failing to provide them with basic living amenities.

Calandri SonRise Farms, headquartered in Lancaster, is being sued in federal court for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the California Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

Former field hands Adalberto Gomez and Ignacio Villalobos are named as plaintiffs in the civil action filed last week in U.S. District Court in Riverside. They’re being represented by Coachella-based California Rural Legal Assistance and the Oxnard-based law firm Nava & Gomez.

The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages and a change in Calandri’s operations, claims the onion grower and its contractors — Maria Castillo, Teresa Castillo, Juan Munoz and Mary Ocampo — repeatedly committed labor abuses, including underpaying workers and allowing them to live in unhealthy conditions.

Calandri Director of Operations Brandon Calandri told City News Service the family-owned concern had only received word about the lawsuit on Monday and was “still trying to figure out what the heck is going on.”

The company’s attorney released a statement saying “SonRise has always maintained a safe working environment at its farms and has complied with state and federal wage and hour laws.”

The suit claims Calandri — which operates throughout Southern California — and its contractors manipulated records and pay stubs to short field hands on their compensation. Workers were also allegedly denied reimbursements for tools used in planting and harvesting.

“Workers were made to live in squalid, makeshift camps on the edges of the onion fields, (and) workers … resorted to bathing in irrigation reservoirs and other unsafe places because their employer-provided housing lacked running water or adequate toilet facilities,” according to a statement released by California Rural Legal Assistance.

The firm is seeking to have the suit certified as a class action.

Megan Beaman, with California Rural Legal Assistance, said Gomez and Villalobos represent “thousands” of unnamed farmworkers “who face the same abuses on the job every day.”

“Growers who play by the rules shouldn’t have to compete with employers … who try to help their bottom line by breaking the law,” Beaman said.

Source: MyDesert.com, “Farming operation accused of cheating workers” by Desert Sun Wire Services, 2 Apr 2012.

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