California agriculture workers frequent victims of wage theft

With an estimated $27 billion generated annually, there’s no doubt that the agriculture industry plays a significant role in California's state economy. From cattle ranches to citrus fields, with more than 80,000 ranches and farms located throughout the state, the industry employs some 900,000 workers who tend to livestock and plant and harvest crops.

Unfortunately, individuals who work on many of these farms and ranches are among some of the lowest paid and exploited of all workers in the state. There have been many documented cases in which agricultural workers are forced to work long hours for less than minimum wage pay. Working conditions are often physically demanding with men, women and even children working more than 10 hours in hot conditions with no breaks and little food or water.

The owner of a large farming operation located near Monterey was recently ordered by a federal court to pay more than 150 former workers $2.6 million in compensation. The man owned and operated several farms where workers harvested crops including lettuce and grapes. The sizable settlement stems from an October 2012 lawsuit filed by the farm workers who accused their employer of committing numerous wage and hour violations. 

Included among the claims against the employer were that he violated federal and state minimum wage laws. He was also accused of failing to pay workers for overtime hours and of doctoring employment records in an attempt to cover-up his illegal actions.

Individuals who work or have worked in California's agricultural industry and have suffered due to acts of wage theft, discrimination or harassment may choose to discuss their case with an attorney who handles employment law matters. An attorney will investigate claims and help determine if legal action is warranted.

Source: Monterey Herald, "Greenfield labor contractor must pay farmworkers $2.6M in unpaid wages, overtime," Ana Ceballos, Feb. 25, 2015

Agricultural Worker Health Project, "Protecting Farm Worker Health And Safety," March 2, 2015

California Department of Food and Agriculture, March 2, 2015

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