Failure to find ‘ghost’ workers cast doubts on claims

The Department of Labor's inability to find "ghost" workers it says were cheated by Oregon blueberry growers casts more doubt on its story.

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The stars of paranormal reality shows root around in dark basements, attics, cemeteries and other creepy haunts where alleged specters lurk in the mist. The evidence of apparitions comes in the form of barely audible and unintelligible recordings and phantom images on video.

The techniques used by the U.S. Department of Labor to find the 1,000 or so “ghost” workers it says were cheated out of wages by Oregon blueberry growers produced little more credible evidence of their existence.

In 2012 the department forced, under the threat of losing their crop, three blueberry producers to admit to wage and hour violations.

The department claimed many piece-rate tickets — which are used to tally each picker’s harvest amounts — actually represented the production of two or more workers.

The growers paid $210,000 in alleged back wages the department said was owed to more than 1,000 workers who weren’t on the books.

According to documents obtained by the Oregon Farm Bureau, the department put the word out through area churches and gathering spots, the Mexican consulate and Spanish-language radio that it was looking for people who had worked for the growers and were paid less than minimum wage. It also had access to workers when it visited the growers during the harvest.

But despite an extensive search effort that offered pickers the prospect of an unexpected payday, only 21 of these alleged ghost workers have been located.

It’s unclear what proof of their unrecorded employment the 21 were required to produce. Also unclear is how the department determined the amount of their back wages — $22,000 in total. At that rate, the pay-outs would far exceed the amount extorted from the growers if all the imagined ghost workers materialized.

We think this raises serious questions about the accuracy of the department’s allegations.

If the ghost workers did exist, wouldn’t hearing their colleagues were paid, on average, more than $1,000 each bring more of them to life? If the department really thought it would find anything close to 1,000 underpaid pickers, would it have paid 2 percent of them more than 10 percent of the money?

Maybe. Flawed government math is at the heart of the controversy.

Labor officials relied on a statistical analysis of berry harvests that denied the proven ability of experienced workers to pick more than 55.5 pounds of berries an hour. In their minds, no one could pick any more than that without help.

Objective evidence proves otherwise, and the department’s own disbursal of the money suggests it believes some workers pick more than others. The facts don’t support the bureaucratic narrative that Oregon blueberry growers are engaged in wholesale wage and hour abuses.

As do paranormal investigators on TV, labor officials say their failure to find the ghosts is no proof that they don’t exist. That they claim to have found a handful — unidentified and undocumented — fails to prove the allegations.



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