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Saturday, September 1, 2012

‘Extortion’: Why Did the Labor Department ‘Drop the Hammer’ on Oregon Farmers?

Oregon farmers and state officials are furious with the U.S. Labor Department after federal authorities in July put a hold on thousands of dollars worth of blueberries, citing “widespread” record-keeping and minimum wage violations, Eric Mortenson reports for The Oregonian.

“[T]he department invoked a “hot goods” provision of labor law that prohibited shipment of the berries. Labor officials also notified wholesalers that berries from the farms would be subject to the order and should not be processed or shipped,” according to the report.

“Hot goods” orders are used by the department’s Wage and Hour Division to halt the production and/or sale of goods its believes were produced in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

But here‘s what has members of Oregon’s congressional delegation and the Oregon Farm Bureau particularly disturbed: The federal agency told the farmers that they could make everything go away if they paid “a fine and back wages and sign a consent judgment admitting wrong and agreeing not to contest the order even if subsequent information exonerated the farms.”

It’s “extortion,” said Greg Ditchen whose farm had to pay $169,816 in back wages and penalties. He had no other choice. It was either that or let his crops go to waste.

“They put a hot goods order on our fruit, and after they had the money they said we had to sign a paper saying we were wrong,” Ditchen said. “We had to make a business decision and sign the paper.”

And he wasn’t the only farmer to take a hit.

Read the full article

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