Posted: Wednesday, June 25th 2014 at 6:47am
Vidalia onion farmer settles suit filed by workers
By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) One of the biggest producers of Vidalia onions has agreed to pay more than $90,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a group of farmworkers.
A judge on Monday approved the agreement between the group of American farmworkers and Stanley Farms LLC and its managers. The workers and their former co-workers had filed a lawsuit last year alleging they were paid less than minimum wage and less than foreign guest workers who labored alongside them.
Stanley Farms agreed to pay $92,500, which includes $82,500 in back wages and damages and $10,000 for attorney's fees and costs. The sweet onion producer also agreed to follow certain hiring and employment practices outlined in the agreement.
According to its website, Stanley Farms grows more than 1,000 acres of onions, as well as other crops and vegetables in southeast Georgia. The family business is owned and operated by R.T. Stanley and his three sons, all of whom were named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said the American farmworkers were hired to pull onions from the ground, clip their roots and stems and put them in buckets. They were paid 40 cents for each 5-gallon bucket, which did not add up to the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. During the period in question, the foreign guest workers were paid between $9.11 and $9.38 an hour, the lawsuit said.
The farm also didn't pay for the files or shears needed to clip onions and arranged for crew leaders or supervisors to sell those to the workers in the field along with other items, like food, drinks, cigarettes and alcohol further reducing their wages, the lawsuit said. The workers also said they were transported in unsafe vehicles and worked in fields that had recently been sprayed with pesticides.
Stanley Farms agreed to give U.S. workers the same pay, benefits and working conditions as foreign guest workers brought in on special visas; properly record and compensate all work performed; buy an electronic timekeeping system with each worker assigned a card; use only transportation that is properly inspected and insured has a seat for each passenger; not allow workers to enter fields until 24 hours have passed after the application of certain chemicals; and provide proper tools, among other changes.
``We're pleased with the resolution reached, and we're pleased that the farm is agreeing to pay U.S. and foreign workers the same amount, which we don't believe they were doing,'' said Dawson Morton, a lawyer for the workers.
R.T. Stanley did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Georgia's Vidalia onions are known for their trademark sweetness that growers say is caused by the soil and climate. By state and federal law, only those onions grown in 13 counties and portions of seven others can carry the Vidalia name.
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