American Farm Workers Sue Vidalia Onion Growers for not Paying Minimum Wage

Americans claim the grower paid less than minimum wage, transported them in vehicles without seats, and paid the Americans less than foreign guestworkers on H-2A visas.

LYONS, GA:  On Friday, April 12, four American farm workers together with 16 former co-workers sued Stanley Farms, LLC and its managers.  The Stanleys cultivate about 1,200 acres of Vidalia onions, or one in ten of all Vidalia onions grown, and hire more than two hundred seasonal farm workers. Our clients allege that in each of the last three years the Stanleys ran an operation which paid less than minimum wage, caused illegal wage deductions and transportation in unsafe vehicles.  The complaint also alleges that the Americans worked alongside foreign H-2A workers who were offered higher wages. At the start of this year’s Vidalia onion season, the suit is a reminder of the labor and workplace abuses prevalent in the Vidalia onion industry. Stanley Farms is an integrated grower, packer, processor and shipper of Vidalia onions and has been featured on the Food Network.

The suit, Tomason v. Stanley, alleges that Stanley Farms also discriminated against American workers by offering foreign workers higher wages and better working conditions. Lead Plaintiff Sherry Tomason said “I have worked out there on and off for six years.  Our pay and treatment tells me our work hasn’t been respected. We’ve been transported sitting on buckets in the back of vehicles, we’ve been sprayed with pesticides, and we’ve been way under paid.  The not caring about us workers gets to you after a while.” American workers, as alleged in the complaint, were paid to pull onions from the ground, clip their roots and stem, and place them in a bucket.  For each five gallon bucket of onions, the workers were paid 40 cents, which did not provide the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  Foreign workers during the time period of the suit were entitled to hourly wages ranging from $9.11 to $9.38 per hour.  The farm also allowed supervisors and Stanley family members to profit from underpaid workers by selling them tools, food and alcohol in the field.  For example, the farm did not pay for the files or shears necessary to clip onions, the farm workers allege, but instead arranged for those to be sold to workers.

“Clipping onions is a hard job. They should not have to worry that they will be fairly paid at the end of the day.  Unfortunately Stanley Farms did not even pay our clients minimum wage,” said Attorney Dawson Morton.  “We see this repeatedly. Farms complain that no local workers are available.  But when they do hire local workers, they don’t pay them fairly and don’t offer them the same pay as their foreign workers.  It’s illegal and discourages American workers from continuing in agriculture.”

Suit was filed Friday, April 12, 2013 in federal district court for the Southern District of Georgia.  The case is Civil Action Number 6:13-cv-42.  The farm workers are represented by the Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services.

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