Business | Agriculture | Oregon

'Hot Goods' Settlements With Blueberry Growers Thrown Out

OPB | Jan. 16, 2014 1:24 p.m. | Updated: Jan. 16, 2014 2:38 p.m. | Bend, Oregon

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A federal magistrate has thrown out settlements between the U.S. Department of Labor and two Oregon blueberry growers accused of minimum wage violations.

Blueberries

Blueberries

David Nogueras / OPB

The case dates back to the summer of 2012, when department inspectors contacted the heads of Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditchen about possible violations.

In both cases, the department used something called a “hot goods” order, which effectively blocked shipment of the berries to wholesalers.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Coffin's Ruling

A federal magistrate has thrown out settlements between the U.S. Department of Labor and two Oregon blueberry growers accused of minimum wage violations.

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Attorney Tim Bernaseck represents both companies. He says his clients were faced with a choice: admit guilt, waive their right to an appeal and pay more than $200,000 in fines and back wages or let millions of dollars worth of berries rot.

Bernaseck said, “I mean it’s really unbelievable that they did this and thought that it was ok to do that. It’s just not the way that our government works, or should work. And we’re just thankful that the judge called them on it.”

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas Coffin wrote the orders unfairly stacked the deck against the farms. The department did not respond to a request for comment. The government has 14 days to appeal.

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