A Guadalupe packaging company and its labor contractor agreed to pay nearly $6 million this week to settle a class-action overtime lawsuit. Apio Inc. and its labor contractor Pacific Harvest are the defendants.
The plaintiffs argued that Apio failed to pay employees for their full shifts. Rather, according to the plaintiff’s Oakland-based attorney Hector Martinez, the supervisors electronically scanned in workers by barcode when they arrived at their workstations, and scanned them out when they walked from one station to another. “They have a pretty sophisticated time system,” Martinez said. “It’s kind of interesting how they obtained their data.”
In addition, workers were also forced to “clock out” while they dressed in and undressed from protective gear, which is a violation of California labor laws, said Martinez, who is originally from Ventura. “If you do anything for the benefit of the employer, you must clock in first,” he said.
Asked about working conditions in general, he claimed wages are just one aspect. “It’s kind of a symptom of a larger, overall problem.” Neither Apio nor Pacific Harvest returned requests for comment.
This settlement comes at a time when the industry is struggling with an up to 26 percent labor shortage. At the same time, efforts to implement greater protections for agriculture workers have fallen flat. In recent years, activists with CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) called for a Farmworker Bill of Rights, which has been stagnant for some time. Farmers pushed back and claimed working conditions in the fields were good and in compliance with already-stringent state laws.
Lucas Zucker of CAUSE said that most protections require funding and the county government is facing a massive deficit. He did note they are working with Environmental Health Services on a bathroom inspection program, which is cost neutral because registration fees on portable toilets pay for the inspections.