Shepherds Say They’re Paid Just $2 an Hour

     RENO, Nev. (CN) — A class of Nevada shepherds claims they are paid just $1 to $2 an hour, in violation of state and federal labor laws.
     Most shepherds in the Western United States are from South America. An estimated 2,000 to 2,500 shepherds work on H-2A visas in the United States.
     Lead plaintiff Abel Cántaro Castillo, a native of Peru, sued the Western Range Association, El Tejon Sheep Company and its owner Melchor Gragirena, on Tuesday in Federal Court.
     Cántaro says he was paid “a shockingly low wage of as little as one or two dollars an hour” to work for El Tejon Sheep in California and Nevada. El Tejon, based in Bakersfield, Calif., has a ranch near Elko, Nev.
     Cántaro says his terms of employment were set by the Western Range Association, which makes all shepherds sign similar employment contracts.
     No contact information could be found for El Tejon Sheep Co. The Western Range Association does not provide contact information on its website — the most recent post on it is dated June 20, 2014.
     Cántaro says the Western Range Association’s policy is to pay Nevada shepherds as little as $800 per month, an effective wage of $1 to $2 an hour.
     Cántaro worked for El Tejon ranch from 2007 until June 2014, in cultivated farmland from mid-October to mid-April, on the outskirts of Bakersfield.
     Most of the time, he says, he was within walking distance of three- and four-lane highways, just a short drive from ranch owner Melchor Gragirena’s home.
     Federal law allows ranchers to pay less than minimum wage for ranch work done in remote areas, where it’s difficult to track how many hours a shepherd works. But Cántaro says most of the work at El Tejon was “farming and other non-herding work just off well-trafficked highways and on cultivated farmland” and often under direct supervision by Gargirena or the ranch foreman.
     Because the work was farm-related, directly supervised and in a suburban area near Gargirena’s home, Cántaro says, it does not qualify for the substandard wage. He says he and other shepherds should have been paid a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which often exceeded 100 hours per week.
     He seeks class certification, the difference in what he was paid and the $7.25 per-hour Nevada minimum wage, plus damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Nevada Constitution.
     He is represented by Alexander Hood, of Denver, who could not be reached by telephone Wednesday afternoon.
     Thousands of shepherds in Colorado filed a similar federal class action against the U.S. Department of Labor last summer.

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