Settlement Between U.S. Department of Labor and Blueberry Growers Vacated
In 2012, the Department of Labor accused Oregon blueberry growers of employing "ghost workers" resulting in minimum wage violations. The DOL then issued what is known as a "hot goods order" to block shipment of their product to market until the violations were remedied. This, of course, created an untenable situation for the blueberry producers as their products were highly perishable. With no real alternative, the blueberry growers signed consent agreements with the DOL, in which they agreed to substantial fines and waived their rights to contest the allegations.The blueberry growers later challenged the consent judgment and in January a federal magistrate judge agreed with the growers finding that "the tactic of putting millions of dollars of perishable goods in lock up was unlawfully coercive." That decision was upheld just last week by the United States district judge. Invaliding consent judgments, particularly those with the federal government, is extremely difficult and rarely happens. But in this case, the combination of over-the-top, coercive of tactics by the DOL, as well as the court's view that there was little or no evidence of underlying labor violations to begin with, paved the way for the growers in this case.