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Blueberry Growers Get Their Day In Court After 'Hot Goods' Ruling

OPB | April 25, 2014 3:02 p.m. | Bend, Oregon

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A federal judge has upheld a previous ruling throwing out settlements between the U.S. Department of Labor and two Oregon blueberry growers accused of minimum wage violations. 

Blueberries

Blueberries

David Nogueras / OPB

Back in 2012, department inspectors accused Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditchen Farms of violating federal labor law. The companies were accused of employing so-called “ghost workers” - in this case, berry pickers who weren’t officially on books. 

Both parties admitted guilt, but only after the department used what’s called a hot goods order, to block shipment of their product to market.

Back in January, a federal magistrate ruled that in this situation, the tactic of putting millions of dollars of perishable goods in lock up was unlawfully coercive.  This week U.S. District Judge Michael McShane agreed.

The growers’ Attorney Tim Bernasek says his clients are thrilled, but he notes cases are still pending against them.  He says both companies deny using ghost workers.

The Labor Department declined a request for an interview but it did issue a statement saying it was reviewing the decision and considering its options.

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