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California Orders Date Farm to Rehire Workers Fired for Safety Complaints

October 16, 2018

By Steve Wishnia and Neal Tepel

VISALIA, Calif.—A Coachella Valley date farm will rehire four workers and has paid them almost $40,000 in lost wages after the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board found they were illegally fired for complaining about health and safety problems. The four said they had been fired or switched to lower-paying jobs after they complained to supervisors and the state that the doors of the portable toilets didn’t have working locks, they didn’t have clean water to wash their hands, a basket used to lift workers to harvest fruit from the top of date palms was in poor condition, and people often worked in the baskets without a proper safety harness. The workers said a supervisor for farm-labor contractor Desert Harvest had called them “very problematic workers.” KR Thermal Middleton, which hired the four through Desert Harvest, agreed to settle without admitting liability, saying it stopped using the contractor last December, while a Desert Harvest owner told the Palm Springs Desert Sun that it “was not involved.” Chris Schneider, director of the labor board’s regional office in Visalia, said the settlement shows that “if just two workers” make a complaint together, that is legally protected as “concerted activity.” Read more

October 16, 2018

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