Four farmworkers who filed a federal class-action suit in Fresno against Kovacevich Five Farms on behalf of themselves and about 500 co-workers have agreed to a $1.7 million settlement against the grape grower. Kovacevich Five Farms also expressly agreed not to retaliate in any way against the workers, including cutting staff or supplies. The claims arose from the requirement that workers arrive on the job half an hour before their starting time to unload wheelbarrows and other supplies, off the clock. The settlement includes $320,000 in back wages and more than one million dollars in penalties, attorney's fees and other damages. In approving the settlement, the U.S. District Court judge called the settlement "a significant victory" for the workers.
Wage and hour violations are widespread in the agricultural industry, with growers often failing to provide paid breaks, lunch breaks and overtime pay, or forcing employees to work off the clock, provide their own tools, or accept less than minimum wage, sometimes in cash with little or no documentation. However, it is always difficult to pursue claims in the agricultural industry because farmworkers are often unaware of their rights. Most are immigrants unfamiliar with the California legal system, and they usually perceive that they have no ability to challenge any injustices, or, worse, fear that they will be retaliated against and ruined by an angry employer. As a result, many times, plaintiffs sometimes struggle to rally support and assistance from their co-workers. Congratulations to Tom Lynch and his team of attorneys representing the plaintiffs.