The U.S. should be grateful for the backbreaking work of those who plant, maintain and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables on California farms for national consumption. Nowadays, people usually assume that agricultural employees are treated fairly, with respect and in compliance with federal and state employment laws.
However, three former employees of Windset Farms and Pacheco Labor Services allege otherwise in filing a class action lawsuit against the companies and related entities for unfair business practices on May 31, 2013, in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Santa Maria Division, for the way they were treated while harvesting tomatoes for the agricultural giant Windset Farms.
Windset Farms is a large Canadian agribusiness company that operates massive tomato greenhouses in Santa Maria, Calif., while Pacheco is a Santa Maria company that provides labor for agricultural production enterprises. The plaintiffs were formerly pickers and packers for Windset.
Unfair business practices
The California Supreme Court has held that an employer commits an “unfair business practice” if it fails to pay wages required by law. California labor law forbids companies and employers from using unfair business practices to gain competitive edge in the marketplace.
The complaint alleges that the workers were not paid for overtime hours worked and did not get legally mandated rest and food breaks. According to The Packer, they complain that they were made to do work activities without pay outside of their regular shifts and did not receive legally required meal and rest periods during work hours.
KCOY also reports that the suit alleges that employees could not use bathrooms when they needed to, which made them ill.
The lawsuit not only asks for relief for the three named plaintiffs, but also requests class action status on behalf of other affected current and former employees back to 2008. According to a press release by the plaintiffs’ legal counsel, the lawsuit asks for unpaid wages, interest and penalties; and asks the court to order the employers to comply with applicable wage and hour laws going forward.
The press release also mentions that the workers allege having been verbally harassed by management on a regular basis.