Good Crop, Bad Crop

Too often, workers picking America’s produce face poor treatment and wage theft. The U.S. is barely using a law designed to stop it.

Feature (California)

Gabriel Thompson
August 2, 2016

Tags: Employment, Farm and Migrant Workers, Wage Theft

Organizations mentioned/involved: California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. (CRLA)


Vasquez was working for California’s minimum wage, then $9 an hour. By the second week, he began to suspect the company was loping minutes, and sometimes hours, off his check, and the pickers still weren’t receiving their afternoon break. He did his best to track his hours for several months, filling a notebook with each day’s arrival and departure times. At the end of the season, he brought his notebook and paychecks to the local office of California Rural Legal Assistance, which represents farmworkers.

There, advocate Antonio Flores found Vasquez’s notes hard to decipher, but it was clear he was owed money for the farm’s routine failure to provide breaks. Under California law, Vasquez was due an hour of pay for each day he worked through breaks, plus penalties. Flores calculated that Rincon Pacific owed Vasquez more than $2,000 for the missed breaks alone. While denying any wrongdoing, Rincon cut Vasquez a check for $1,500.

But such victories are rare.