IR #99-17
Thursday, October 7, 1999

Dean Fryer
(415) 703-5050

Labor commissioner orders company to pay $54,508 to farm workers

SAN FRANCISCO -- State Labor Commissioner Marcy Saunders announced today that the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has collected $54,508 in back wages and illegal tool deductions owed to 46 employees and will be distributing checks ranging from $136 to $1,788 on Friday. The claimants are employees of Beas Agri Services of Madera and were harvesting crops for Sunmet Inc., a grower in the Madera area.

"This administration's philosophy is to work as quickly as possible to resolve these types of issues. Farm laborers, because they follow the crop harvest and are often exploited, are many times the last people to receive fair compensation for their very hard work," said Saunders. "We take these issues seriously and will work vigorously to ensure that farm laborers receive the wages they are due. I applaud my staff in the Fresno district office for their diligence in resolving this very serious matter."

On July 2, migrant farm workers began arriving at the DLSE Fresno office to file claims for bounced checks, non-payment of wages and illegal tool deductions. Hearings were held on August 12 and 13 in the Fresno office for 46 of the claimants. Beas and his representatives appeared at the hearing, but Sunmet failed to appear. At the hearing Beas admitted that he owed the wages but disputed that any waiting time penalties should apply since he was victimized as much as his workers. Beas presented evidence of Sunmet's failure to provide funds for a check issued for farm services and felt that Sunmet should also be responsible. The evidence failed to prove that Sunmet's check was returned for insufficient funds, causing payroll checks issued by Beas to be returned.

Claimants who had either moved out of the area or could not attend the hearing will be included in a suit to be filed in Madera Superior Court. That suit currently contains approximately 150 claimants and will be filed when officials are confident that all claimants have come forward. Many of the claimants will be represented by the California Rural Legal Assistance.

Employees who wish to file claims for wages they believe are due them can contact the DLSE Public Information Unit at 916-323-4920. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement is a division within the California Department of Industrial Relations and is responsible for workplace wage and hour issues.

Editor's note: Labor Commissioner Marcy Saunders is available for interviews on this topic Thurs. and Fri.

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