Farm worker sorting persimmons

Fresno Farm Contractor and Growers Cited $1.9 Million for Wage Theft Affecting Hundreds of Workers

Wage theft is commonly reported in the restaurant industry, but it also occurs in many other types of jobs across California. The agricultural sector in Fresno County was recently hit with allegations of multiple wage and hour violations.

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office (LCO) cited a Parlier farm labor contractor and two growers in Madera and Kingsburg $1,926,531 for wage theft and other infractions. The total amount includes waiting time penalties, minimum wage violations and interest. The LCO stated that the agricultural industry has strict laws that hold growers responsible for unpaid wages, even when their labor contractors may be to blame for pay-related violations.

The wage theft involved 356 workers tasked with harvesting blueberries and persimmons. The owed wages date back to September 2018. The farm labor contractor, M.G. Luna, Inc., collected wages from the growers but did not pay the workers. Additionally, the contractor failed to pay the workers who were hired to harvest berries on its own farm.

M.G. Luna is registered to Maria Guadalupe Luna. The individual owner was cited for the bulk of violations affecting 223 workers. The citation included $1,140,720 for waiting time penalties, $191,943 for minimum wage violations and $71,325 in interest.

The growers who contracted with M.G. Luna were Madera Persimmon Growers Inc. and Willems Farms, Inc. They are now obligated to pay the owed wages to the affected workers, comprising the remainder of the more than $1.9 million in citations. The two growers have decided to appeal their citations.

Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower emphasized the “up-the-chain liability laws” in the agricultural industry in which client companies are on the hook for unpaid wages when their contractors do not fulfill payment obligations. She emphasized that growers should ensure that the farm labor contractors they hire comply with California’s legal wage requirements.

The LCO launched an investigation into M.G. Luna and the growers in September 2019 following a referral from the nonprofit California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. The probe was prompted due to numerous wage claims filed by workers against M.G. Luna and the growers, citing nonpayment of wages and checks with insufficient funds.

When hiring a farm labor contractor, growers are required to do their due diligence to ensure no labor laws are broken. The LCO has an online search tool that allows growers to find out whether the farm labor contractor they are considering hiring is properly licensed. Additionally, they can check whether the contractor has faced any wage claims in the past.

According to a Mid Valley Times news report, a wage claim search on the Department of Industrial Relations website shows that M.G. Luna has been identified as a defendant in wage and hour claims 50 times. Madera Persimmon Growers has been named four times while Willems Farms has been named eight times.

The LCO investigates various labor law violations across California including wage theft and retaliation. In another large settlement in 2023, the office obtained $1.47 million for workers at five poultry processing plants in Los Angeles. The workers did not receive proper rest breaks or overtime pay.

While the LCO continues to crack down on employment violations, wage theft remains an issue across all types of industries. If you are not being paid the full wages you are owed, reach out to an experienced San Francisco employment lawyer. McCormack Law Firm is dedicated to helping workers recover the rightful pay they have earned. We work tirelessly to ensure that employees are not taken advantage of by their employers.

Wage theft is not just limited to the pay that is earned for regular hours worked. Wage and hour violations can also include unpaid overtime, inadequate meal breaks and rest breaks, incorrectly calculated commissions, illegal deductions, worker misclassification and more.

Additionally, while the Fresno agricultural case involved a group of workers who all experienced similar pay violations, many wage claims are often filed by individual employees. At McCormack Law Firm, we have experience helping workers with all types of wage disputes.

If you are unsure about whether your employer is engaging in illegal pay practices, talking to an employment attorney is a good idea. Contact McCormack Law Firm for a free initial consultation. We will help you understand the legal options available for resolving your wage claim.

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