IR #2003-6
Sunday September 14, 2003

Dean Fryer

Media Advisory
State labor commissioner pays farm worker back wages

The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), in cooperation with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), will pay out over $68,000 in back wages owed to 64 former employees of unlicensed farm labor contractor Leandro Diaz. Workers are being paid out of the state's farm worker remedial fund.
When: Sunday, Sept. 14, 20031 p.m.
What: Checks in amounts ranging from just under $300.00 to over $2,000 will be distributed to workers over the course of several hours. News media representatives are invited to attend the distribution to interview investigators, worker advocates and workers. Spanish speakers will be available.
Where: Salon Atkinson1100 N. RailroadSanta Maria, CA

Background information
Farm workers' back wages are being paid out of a special fund established by the state. A portion of licensing fees paid by California's farm labor contractors is set aside to ensure that workers are paid when wages owed by irresponsible or unlicensed contractors are not forthcoming.

This case was opened in July 2001, when employees working for Leandro Diaz, an unlicensed farm labor contractor harvesting berries for Sutti Farms, filed claims for two weeks wages owed and unpaid. Workers also did not receive meal and rest periods as required by law.

Diaz initially asserted he was only the workers' supervisor but evidence presented to the DLSE by workers and the CRLA clearly showed he was operating as a farm labor contractor without a license. All farm labor contractors must be licensed by the DLSE to do business in California. The licensing process, which includes testing, assures labor enforcement officials that employers in this field are aware of laws protecting workers. Beginning July 2002 growers employing farm labor contractors must provide evidence they've verified the contractor's license to be relieved of wage liabilities.

The CRLA, which represented workers in their wage claim hearings, played a critical role by addressing workers' fear of coming forward and facilitating communication between Spanish-speaking workers and state labor officials.

After attempts to recover workers' wages from Diaz and Sutti Farms proved unsuccessful, CRLA requested DLSE utilize farm worker remedial funds to compensate workers, who've gone over two years without the pay they earned.