Gerawan workers file lawsuit on pay in Fresno federal court

The Fresno BeeFebruary 4, 2014 

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed Monday against Gerawan Farming on behalf of current and former employees, who say the company has failed to pay minimum wage, overtime, and state-guaranteed paid rest breaks.

More than 20 employees gathered outside the federal courthouse in downtown Fresno Tuesday, including the two plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, Rafael Marquez Amaro and Jesus Alarcon Urzua.

Attorney Mario Martinez, who represents the workers, said the lawsuit was on behalf of thousands of Gerawan field workers who were paid by piece rate over the last four years. Workers said earnings vary since they are paid by piece rate, but it was often below minimum wage.

"For years Gerawan Farming and the Gerawan family have told the public and its workers that it pays the highest wages in the industry ... we believe those claims are not only false, but that for years Gerawan has cheated and robbed its workers out of money by failing to pay minimum wage," Martinez said.

Martinez has previously represented the United Farm Workers, which is currently embroiled in a dispute with Gerawan over union representation. But Martinez said the class-action lawsuit had nothing to do with the dispute.

Gerawan Farming issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying it has not been served with the complaint, but adding that it did not short workers on pay.

"The notion that we would pay below minimum wage, not pay overtime, or not pay for rest breaks is untrue and absurd," the company said.

Gerawan Farming also noted that Martinez has been representing UFW, which is "trying to impose itself on our employees." It said that the workers were not aware of the union or its claim to speak in their name when it resurfaced after a two-decade absence.

"We doubt that these same workers understand, or would agree, that this same attorney can now claim to speak on their behalf through this meritless lawsuit," the company added.

One of the plaintiffs, Amaro, said that despite field workers' fears to speak up, he decided to take a stand for justice.

"They're paying us whatever they want; that's why we are fighting for better conditions and filing this lawsuit," he said in Spanish.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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