Class Gains Ground in Vineyard Wage Dispute

     (CN) – A federal judge has recommended certification of a class of harvest fieldworkers who say a table-grape grower in Kern County, Calif., paid them less than minimum wage and made them wash trays at home.



     A group of about 50 harvest workers had claimed that Delano-based Sunview Vineyards of California has violated labor laws for years by failing to pay workers for before- and after-work meetings and tray-washing duties. In addition to allegedly paying less than minimum wage, the grower also faces claims that it requires workers to buy their own tools and will not let piece-rate harvesters take breaks.
     Sunview has denied all of the charges, and says its payroll system ensures payment of the minimum wage to workers. After tracking the hours worked by each employee, the system purportedly adds a “true-up” payment to those who fall below minimum wage.
     In recommendation to the trial court last week, U.S Magistrate Judge Jennifer Thurston in Fresno recommended class certification for two of the plaintiffs’ claims, finding that the others failed to meet the tough legal standards for class actions.
     Thurston granted the plaintiffs’ request to certify a class of workers “who were paid an hourly wage less than minimum wage plus piece rate from January 2002 to July 2003,” and those “non-supervisory harvest fieldworkers employed by Sunview during the 2001 and 2002 harvests who took trays home overnight and washed those trays without compensation.”
     The recommendations must now go before a district judge for final approval.
     Similar claims against table-grape grower El Rancho Farms in Arvin, Calif., came to an end late last month when Chief U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishi accepted a magistrate judge’s complete denial of class certification to a separate group of harvest workers.

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