Los Angeles-Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has filed a lawsuit against an Imperial Valley, Calif., farm labor contractor Juan Munoz for failing to pay minumum wage and overtime, as well as committing “potentially deadly” worker safety violations by neglecting to provide rest breaks, potable drinking water or shade to field workers.
Juan Munoz supplied field workers to onion farms in Kern County and in the Coachella Valley and Mojave Desert.
In 2009, Brown’s office conducted a routine field visit at a Southern California onion farm. During the visit, Brown’s office interviewed more than 10 workers hired by Munoz.
According to the workers, Munoz gathered workers from throughout Southern California and delivered them to an onion field that was often far from their home. Once at the fields, they worked split shifts throughout the day and night, slept in the fields and bathed in a nearby reservoir.
The workers were not given rest breaks or potable drinking water, and the employees were not provided with training on how to recognize and prevent heat exhaustion.
Growers paid Munoz a set price per piece, such as a four-gallon onion sack, and Munoz determined the rate of pay for the field workers. The workers were typically paid $1.23 for each four-gallon sack of onions they harvested.
Employees worked split shifts totaling approximately 70 hours a week, but were not provided premium pay. Under state law, workers are entitled to an additional hour of pay if they have less than an eight-hour break between shifts. Workers were also denied overtime pay. State law requires employers to pay overtime (time and a half) to employees who work more than 10 hours a day.
In addition, many of the workers were paid in cash below the minimum wage without a written statement of hours worked, rate of pay or deductions taken, also a violation of state labor laws. After working long hours in the fields, workers were often forced to wait up to two hours for their paycheck.
The lawsuit alleges that Munoz violated California’s unfair competition laws. The lawsuit seeks:
- A permanent injunction;
- Civil penalties;
- Restitution to the field workers; and,
- Other legal costs.