Citrus Farm Workers Claim They Were Not Paid Fair Wages

Current and former employees of Bee Sweet Citrus Inc. filed a class-action complaint on Thursday in the Eastern District of California purporting that they were not paid sufficient wages and other compensation or given required paid breaks when working for the company. They alleged that these violations breached the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA). 

The defendant, Bee Sweet Citrus, produces lemons, grapefruit, oranges, and other citrus commodities which are shipped throughout the United States. The fruit is grown in multiple California counties. The plaintiffs explained that they worked for the defendant as seasonal workers, in some cases directly and in others through contractors. 

“Plaintiffs complain that Defendants have required their agricultural workers to perform unpaid and/or undercompensated work, in violation of federal and state wage and hour laws,” the complaint claimed. It further alleged that the defendants violated laws through “failing to pay minimum wages, failing to appropriately provide or compensate for mandated rest periods, failing to pay its agricultural workers the wages due at the agreed-upon wage rate for work performed and/or fruit harvested under the workers’ piece rate, failing to pay workers for post-shift work, failing to pay for travel time, and failing to reimburse for tools and equipment.”

The two named plaintiffs in the matter, Rafael Marques Amaro and Javier Barrera, said they worked at Bee Sweet Citrus’ fields as non-exempt employees in or near Fresno, Madera, and Tulare counties in California cultivating, harvesting, packaging, and shipping citrus for the defendant. The complaint reported that they gave notice to the company on October 29, 2020, about their purported legal violations. 

Amaro and Barrera claimed that the verbal working agreements made between the class and the defendants were contracts under the AWPA and that Bee Sweet Citrus had agreed to the terms of the oral contract, including the defendants posting of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) California Wage Order 14, which was reportedly used as a working arrangement under the AWPA. 

According to the complaint, members of the class should have been given paid rest periods under IWC Wage Order 14 and should have been paid for work based on the piece rate which was previously agreed. The plaintiffs, however, purported that they frequently did work activities “off the clock” after the official working shift had ended, such as collecting fallen fruit, and moving ladders and were not paid for said work. They were also told to arrive at work about four hours before they would begin harvesting frequently, and were not paid for that time. 

Amaro and Barrera further claimed that they were not paid when the company required them to travel between fields during the work day and were required to purchase their own tools and use their own vehicles, but were not reimbursed for these expenses. The plaintiffs purported that the defendant’s actions were “knowing and wilful.”

In addition to violating the AWPA, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants did not supply itemized wage statements as required by California labor code. 

The putative class includes individuals who worked at Bee Sweet Citrus in any of the previous four years. Thursday’s complaint explained that many in the proposed class either quit or were laid off during the class period without receiving their full pay.

Amaro and Barrera are represented by Kingsley & Kingsley.