Farm workers

Farm workers in a Salinas Valley field. 

It’s been a weird week for California farm workers, even as Cesar Chavez Day comes March 31. The federal holiday commemorates the leadership of Chavez, who along with Dolores Huerta, helped lead the fight for farm workers’ rights and co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, fighting for higher wages and organizing battles for farm workers.

Ironically, the NFWA’s modern-day legacy, United Farm Workers, lost a lawsuit filed by about 160 of its own California employees on March 27. The workers, from all over the state, allege they received defective pay stubs, and about 20 weren’t paid overtime, according to a complaint filed back in November 2015. The employees mostly helped facilitate collective bargaining agreements for ag workers. 

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled in those employees’ favor, ordering the UFW to pay about $1.2 million, including unpaid wages, overtime and penalties.

“It’s ironic on some level,” says attorney Ana Toledo of Noland Hamerly Etienne & Hoss, who represented the UFW employees. “For us, it was a case about holding an employer accountable for compliance to California labor law.” 

The UFW plans to appeal, says spokesperson and VP Giev Kashkooli. He points out that Noland Hamerly has also represented the Western Growers Association, a trade group for the ag industry.

Separately, two class-action lawsuits were filed by ag workers in Monterey County Superior Court in recent weeks. Dozens of employees of Pinnacle Agricultural Distribution and Fresh Connection LLC sued on March 15 and 17, respectively, in both cases alleging unpaid wages and unfair labor practices. The plaintiffs are paid piece-rate compensation. 

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The workers claim most of their allotted 30-minute meal breaks were used not as actual breaks, but to walk from one field to another. 

“[Pinnacle] will vigorously defend against the allegations,” Morgan Jacobs, an attorney representing the company, writes by email. Fresh Connection could not be located for comment.

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Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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