Jury: Del Monte Fresh owes Portland workers for missed breaks

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This is a press release from Griffin & McCandlish, the law firm that represented the workers in this case.

PORTLAND, Ore. - A Multnomah County jury on Oct. 1 found that Florida-based food processor Del Monte Fresh violated Oregon’s minimum wage law. The verdict came in the liability phase of a class action lawsuit on behalf of 1,200 food plant workers.

“We are pleased the jury held Del Monte Fresh accountable for its violations of Oregon minimum wage laws,” said workers’ attorney Jim McCandlish. “Our clients will finally receive the wages they earned and deserve. We believe this verdict sends the clear message that workers in our state must be treated fairly and all employers, no matter how large, must follow Oregon law.”

Minimum wage workers at the Del Monte Fresh plant in North Portland - at 9243 N. Rivergate Blvd. - were required to dress in white smocks, put in place hair and beard nets, put on rubber gloves and slide on half-length plastic arm sleeves to cover the area from elbow to wrist. Evidence and witness testimony demonstrated to jurors that Del Monte plant supervisors, in violation of state law, required the dressing be done prior to punching in on the clock. Also, the jury found that dressing and undressing used up time in the workers’ unpaid 30 minute lunch breaks. State law requires that each worker receive an uninterrupted 30 minute break for meals.

By requiring workers to perform work-related tasks when they were off the clock, Del Monte Fresh failed to pay minimum wage. Class members will have claims for their amount of unpaid time over an 18 month period.

Also, Oregon law provides a penalty of 30 days wages, about $1,800, to each person whose minimum wage rights were violated. Additionally, the offending employer is responsible for the workers’ attorney fees and legal costs.

Exact damages in this case will be determined at an unscheduled future date.

The jury held that Del Monte Fresh breached a prior agreement to ensure that these same practices would not reoccur. That agreement was in response to a workers’ class action against Del Monte for the period from 2003 through 2005.

Last week’s verdict came in a class action for the months from Jan. 1, 2006, until June 12, 2007. Incidentally, on June 12 there was an immigration raid on the plant.

A third lawsuit has been filed charging that Del Monte continues the same practices to this day.

Del Monte Fresh workers were represented by the Portland law firm of Griffin & McCandlish and the Oregon Law Center, a nonprofit that supplies free legal representation in civil matters to low income Oregonians. Del Monte Fresh provides cut-up vegetables and fruit to Portland area grocery stores for retail sale.