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Latino Daily News

Wednesday April 11, 2012

MALDEF Sues Major Grape Grower for Mistreatment of Latino Workers

MALDEF Sues Major Grape Grower for Mistreatment of Latino Workers

Photo: MALDEF Sues Grape Grower for Abusing Latino Workers

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The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Tuesday announced a class-action lawsuit against one of the major grape producers in California’s Central Valley for serious violations of labor laws.

MALDEF accuses Castlerock Farming and Transport, Inc. and many of its labor contractors of forcing workers to work extra time without pay, among other offenses.

“Despite years of litigation and advocacy, illegal pay practices in this industry still persist, and MALDEF files suit to let employers know that they risk suit if they choose to violate the law,” MALDEF National Senior Counsel Victor Viramontes said.

Castlerock, according to the suit, has been “systematically mistreating Latino workers.”

“They make us work extra time and don’t pay us for it and we don’t have the obligatory rest breaks and often (we don’t have the time) for lunch,” Israel Lopez, one of the plaintiffs, told Efe.

At the press conference where they were accompanied by the plaintiffs, MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz, staff attorney Marta Gomez and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta detailed other illegal and abusive practices against the workers.

They said, for example, that some of the workers had to take trays of grapes to wash at their homes each day, basically working another daily shift with no compensation.

“Castlerock has financially benefited at the expense of its own farm workers. These deplorable policies threaten the hard-earned employment protections that Californians cherish,” Gomez said.

The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs “were regularly required to work a 20-30 minute pre-shift, in which they set up equipment and supplies, and attended ‘escuela’ (instructions for the day) without compensation.”

Castlerock and several of its labor contractors are also being sued for not paying workers the California minimum wage.

The suit asks the court to issue a preliminary and permanent order prohibiting the defendants from continuing with the mistreatment of Latino workers.

Also, it asks the firm to pay the back salaries and other benefits that are owed to all Castlerock’s current employees and to those who worked for the company during the past 11 years.

“Many Latino workers, including many in agriculture, are a vulnerable and undervalued sector of our labor force, and MALDEF will fight to ensure that their legal rights are respected,” Martha Gomez said.