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Strawberry Harvester Settles Agricultural Workers Claims for $1M

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New Hope Harvesting LLC has agreed to pay $1M to 900 migrant workers who claimed violations of the California Labor Code

Santa Maria, CANew Hope Harvesting LLC, has agreed in California federal court to a $1 million deal that will settle claims brought by about 900 migrant workers. The agricultural workers claimed the strawberry harvester denied their full wages, denied them proper rest and meal breaks, and charged or failed to reimburse them for certain expenses. The California labor settlement covers potential claimants hired by New Hope since April 16, 2018, to pick strawberries in California farms.

The agreement settles claims filed against New Hope and other defendants under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), and various federal and state laws. According to Bloomberg Law, the deal will pay 900 or so strawberry field workers an average of $454. Some workers will split $3,750 under PAGA; and 11 will get $1,000 each under FLSA. The US District Court for the Central District of California said that the proposed pact “falls within the range of reasonableness” and meets the other necessary legal criteria.

U.S. District Judge Fred Slaughter said the deal's payout would also be accompanied by a series of agreements from New Hope:

  • Comply with labor and immigration law
  • Provide its workers with proper wages, breaks and accommodations
  • Provide workers with clean water, shade and washing facilities
  • Enact a timekeeping system
  • Regularly train managers on their employees' legal rights
  • Cover migrant workers' visa and travel fees

Gutierrez v. New Hope

The settlement stems from a 2019 lawsuit filed by Miguel Gutierrez, a Mexican worker New Hope had brought to the U.S. on an H-2A agricultural visa. Gutierrez accused New Hope and its three principals of violating the terms of the visa program with its pay practices, claiming they required workers to remain on standby before their shift began and after, but refused to compensate for this pre- and post-shift work, reported Law360. Further, he said the company failed to provide breaks during work, despite workers being pressed to work at allegedly "excessive" speeds under the heat. Gutierrez also argued that New Hope had provided housing for him and other H-2A workers in facilities that lacked laundry and cooking areas.

The case is Gutierrez v. New Hope et al., case number 2:19-cv-07077, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

More Strawberry Harvester Lawsuits

New Hope, Seventh Tree Farm and Driscoll's strawberries have more in common than strawberries. Seventeen workers in April 2023 filed a lawsuit in the Ventura County Superior Court of California claiming that they were not fully paid for picking Driscoll's strawberries during the 2022 harvesting season. Seventh Tree Farm hired the workers and promised to pay them $2.10 for each box of strawberries that they picked. The lawsuit alleges that the farm labor contractor and corporation systematically undercounted the number of boxes that workers picked, resulting in widespread wage theft. Further, workers were often required to work overtime on weekends and paid by cash or personal check but they were never paid overtime premiums. In many cases, workers were paid below the minimum wage.

The workers’ complaints fell on deaf ears: managers ignored the issues. One of the plaintiffs who worked for Driscoll's told California Rural Legal Assistance that, “When we saw the list of picked boxes, we realized that the number in the list was not the number that we had picked. We reported to the supervisors that there were boxes missing, but they never fixed the problem, and up until today, we still have not received wages for those boxes.” Maria, another worker, said of the violations she suffered: “It makes me angry. There are so many expenses in life, like childcare, food, and rent, and when employers steal wages, there’s not enough to pay for everything.” 

Of note, Driscoll’s claims to be the “global market leader for fresh strawberries” and controls approximately one-third of the U.S. berry market.

Clearly, the above companies didn’t take a lesson from Fernandez Farms Inc., based in Watsonville, Calif. Back in 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor required the strawberry grower to pay nearly $1 million in back wages to approximately 400 farm workers for minimum wage and overtime violations. Additionally,  the department slapped on another $1 million in penalties for those wage violations and for egregious violations of the H-2A temporary non-immigrant worker program, which include a failure to hire qualified U.S. workers and allegedly requiring workers to pay a substantial sum of their earnings to cover costs of the program. President Gonzalo Fernandez also required each temporary worker to kick back more than $1,600 from their earnings per season, allegedly to cover administrative costs of the program, which violates H-2A program rules. The grower was also found in violation of federal housing safety and health requirements under the H-2A program. Additionally, the employer is alleged to have impeded the department's investigation by intimidating workers and coercing them to hide from or lie to investigators, resulting in an extended investigation.

Strawberry Workers Living Wage

Picking strawberries is one of the most brutal jobs in agriculture, according to a recent article by California writer and former union organizer David Bacon, titled “Strawberry farmworkers Fight for a Living Wage”. Bacon cites a new report by Farmworker Alliance of the Central Coast highlighting harsh conditions that are the norm for farmworkers in the region and across the country. "Harvesting Dignity: The Case for a Living Wage for Farmworkers" documents their low wages, brutal working conditions and the high cost of living: according to a UC Merced/California Department of Public Health survey quoted in the report, a quarter of all California farmworkers sleep in a room with three or more people because the median rent, such as in Santa Maria, is about $3,000 per month.

The report also noted that bad conditions and protesting them is much riskier for undocumented workers, and having no papers affects survival at work as well. “In Santa Barbara County in 2023 there were two farmworker deaths, both related to poor supervision and training of agricultural equipment usage…In one instance, farmworkers reported they were told to continue working in a Cuyama carrot field alongside the body of their fallen coworker.”

In February 2024, a local news channel reported that West Coast Berry Farms LLC of Santa Maria agreed to pay almost $60,000 in lost wages and offer reinstatement to 18 agricultural workers to resolve claims filed with the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (CALRB) alleging an illegal response to a strike. According to charges brought to the CALRB, 18 workers engaged in a two-day strike and signed a petition to West Coast Berry Farms LLC seeking a raise in their per-box wage as well as their hourly wage last season. After the strike, West Coast Berry Farms increased the per-box wage by 15 cents. But when those 18 workers sought to work the next season, the company refused to hire them due to their participation in the previous strike. Finally, the company agreed to reinstate all 18 workers and pay them $58,607.13 in lost wages and agreed to respect the right of farmworkers to collectively seek improvements to working conditions without future retaliation. CALRB agents will visit West Coast Berry Farms LLC's worksites to read a notice about their rights under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act.


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