Oregonians should not forget what happened to some Oregon blueberry farmers.
The U.S. Department of Labor declared in 2012 that it found labor violations at three farms. The farms had to pay a total of $240,000 in back wages, damages and penalties.
The department spotlighted the growers in a news release. It identified them. It took them to task for not obeying the law.
“The law is very clear. Growers in the area are fully aware of their obligation to pay their workers proper wages and the consequences for failing to do so,” the 2012 release said.
That’s still on the website. But the issue didn’t end there.
Two of the farms fought back. Last week, the department agreed to a settlement to return all their money back plus another $30,000 each.
Why is there no news release about that? That’s just one of the things wrong in this whole episode. Do you know how the department determined some of the alleged labor violations? It guessed.
It determined that a picker could pick only a certain amount of blueberries in a day. One farm hired a former Labor Department investigator to test that theory. He had workers pick blueberries on a field that had already been picked, and many picked well over that amount.
The department also used what Oregon Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin called “economic coercion.” When the department contacted the farmers in 2012, it told them their crops could be declared “hot goods.” Farmers were essentially told: Sign a settlement and pay up, or your crops cannot be shipped and will rot.
It doesn’t take a judge to see that is unfair, but a judge did. He told the department to give them back their money.
The department said, instead, it would file new claims against the two farms fighting back. Then some way or another the department decided enough is enough and to give the two farmers their money back and the additional payment.
How should Oregonians feel about that? That the Labor Department can be expected to treat them fairly? It doesn’t sound like it. If the department can’t be trusted to use its “hot goods” powers fairly, Congress should strip those provisions from the law.