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Labor Department seeks court order to inspect farm


By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI



Capital Press



The U.S. Labor Department is seeking a court order to give agency inspectors access to a Washington blueberry farm that allegedly barred them from the property.



The agency alleges Blue Mountain Farms of Walla Walla County, Wash., "unlawfully resisted, opposed, impeded and interfered with officials of the Department of Labor assigned to perform an investigation, inspection, or law enforcement function," the complaint said.



The complaint seeks a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction that would prevent the farm and affiliated entities from interfering with such investigations.



Blue Mountain Farms referred questions to an attorney who was not immediately available for comment.



When five investigators initially arrived at the farm on July 23, they were given permission to enter a packing shed and fields where blueberries were being picked, according to a declaration filed by Manuel Lucero, assistant district director at the agency.



The Labor Department officials were unable to finish their investigations before workers finished for the day at 12:30 p.m., preventing them from ensuring the packing shed was safe and verifying that labor laws were being followed, according to Lucero.



Investigators returned on July 24 but a representative of the farm told them to leave the property and threatened to call the county sheriff and allege criminal trespassing if they tried to enter it, Lucero alleged.



According to the agency's motion for a restraining order, Labor Department officials are allowed to inspect packing sheds and open fields where migrant and seasonal agricultural workers are found.



"Federal investigators are not required to obtain a warrant or other judicial order before conducting an investigation or inspection of a covered agricultural employer," the motion said.



The motion says that warrants aren't necessary because such inspections "take place in an agricultural employer's open fields and adjacent spaces in which they have no reasonable expectation of privacy to trigger the Fourth Amendment."



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