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A Win for Farm Workers

posted on March 26, 2004

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan this week said U.S. farmers and ranchers have generated huge gains in productivity, thereby giving Americans and others cheaper and more abundant food supplies.

Speaking at an international agricultural conference, Greenspan acknowledged that increased productivity has contributed to declining populations in rural areas.

While U.S. farm population peaked at 33 million in 1916, it has been declining ever since and today only a few million people make their living off the land.

On the bottom rung of Americas farming ladder are the nations farmworkers who typically earn poverty-level wages.

This week, however, Californias farmworkers announced a major victory in the courts.

A Win for Farm Workers

A major victory for farmworkers in California was announced this week. On March 16, a federal judge ruled one of the state's largest vegetable producers broke the law when it failed to pay approximately 3,000 Salinas Valley laborers for mandatory trips in company buses to and from vegetable fields. As a result, D'Arrigo (duh-REE'-goh) Brothers Company may end up paying more than 13 million dollars to these workers for an estimated 1.3 million unpaid hours.

The reimbursement could become the largest settlement of its kind since the California Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that workers must be compensated for enforced travel time. The D'Arrigo suit covers the period from August 1996 to April 2000 when workers, primarily Latino immigrants, were ordered by the company to arrive at the parking lot by 6 a.m. then take vans to fields 10 to 15 miles away, resulting in 25 to 50 minutes each way of unpaid time.

The United Farm Workers Union sees the ruling as a boost for its efforts to gain a contract with the Salinas, California- based company. D'Arrigo has not negotiated a union contract in the 29 years since its workers voted for UFW representation. The company argues that its piece-rate wages which is based on the amount of vegetables picked or sorted rather than the hours worked, was the equivalent of a minimum wage that included travel time. But, the judge in the case claims the company failed to keep records of the time and did not comply fully with requests for computer records.

Executives from the company have declined to make any comments on the case so far. D'Arrigo is one of the largest vegetable growers in the nation, employing more than 1,500 workers each season.

Tags: agriculture California immigration jobs news