It seems nary a month goes by that we aren’t writing in this space about the U.S. Department of Labor and its threat to invoke “hot goods” provisions of labor law against Northwest berry farmers.
That would seem almost like an obsession if the department did not constantly provide us with new material.
Most recently the department has claimed in court documents that its actions are justified because agriculture has an “abysmal compliance record” with labor laws, with “about half of employers” violating rules aimed at protecting workers.
The “hot goods” provision prohibits companies from shipping goods produced or harvested in violation of labor laws. In 2012, it was invoked against three Oregon blueberry growers who then settled with the agency for $230,000 rather than have their fruit spoil.
Two of those farms — Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditchen — have asked a federal court to reverse those agreements because they say they were coerced into signing them.
The Labor Department has now filed court documents opposing the farmers’ arguments in which the agency said it “chose to focus some of its limited enforcement resources on berry growers in Washington and Oregon” because field workers are “frequently the victims of wage theft.”
Unfortunately, all the department offers as evidence are extorted confessions from growers who felt they had no choice but to pay the fine to keep their businesses.
The Department of Labor has never had to present evidence in court. Instead, it employs an end run around the due process rights of the growers it targets.
We find its record on due process is abysmal.