The overall travel pay debate surrounding agricultural employees will continue after Fresh Harvest Inc recently settled a lawsuit on the subject. The labor provider, staffing and harvesting company with dozens of locations throughout California has agreed to pay $1 million in back wages as part of the settlement. California Rural Legal Assistance (CLRA) along with the law firm Martínez Aguilasocho & Lynch filed the lawsuit, making the claim that the transportation offered by the company was not a voluntary provision.
“This lawsuit filed against by the CRLA was an anti-employer maneuver designed to put us out of business by creating a new compensation requirement that would have created extraordinary financial pressure on all ag employers,” said Steve Scaroni of Fresh Harvest in a news release. “We won this battle, but the war still rages as there are at least three other similar lawsuits.”
Fresh Harvest will not be required to compensate employees for transportation time to and from work under the settlement agreement. And while the settlement did not include any precedent-setting actions, the travel pay debate will continue in other lawsuits currently being argued.
“What the CRLA has done is file four lawsuits seeking to redefine this voluntary employer-provided transportation as forced transportation, and this would create a new travel time compensation requirement,” said John Segale from California Farmers for Fairness. “What this means is that they would have to be paid for that travel time, for that commute time as they go to and from their workplace.”
As AgNet West previously reported, there is concern that these lawsuits could potentially lead to a mandate requiring payment for travel time. That type of mandate would have a significant impact on labor costs. “When you factor in the minimum wage increase and overtime requirements, mandatory travel pay will increase an employers labor cost by as much as 68 percent per worker, per day, compared to the cost in 2018,” Segale noted.
Listen to Segale’s interview below.