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Onion workers sue farm over wages, housing

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POSTED April 2, 2012 7:42 p.m.


RIVERSIDE  (AP) — Two onion workers have filed a federal lawsuit against a farm alleging they were underpaid and forced to live in squalid conditions on the edge of the fields.

Megan Beaman, an attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance, said Monday the workers reported living in cars and makeshift camps on the edges of onion fields and working for less than minimum wage over the last four years.

The lawsuit filed last week in Riverside against Lancaster, Calif.-based Calandri SonRise Farms and several of its labor contractors seeks the payment of these wages to the plaintiffs as well as their co-workers and improvements in living conditions.

Several hundred workers harvest onions for the company each season, Beaman said.

"It is very common to find farmworkers making less than minimum wage in really unsafe and unhealthy conditions," she said. "The onion harvest is among the worst crops in the state for worker safety and health."

SonRise declined to comment on the allegations because company officials said they have not yet received a copy of the lawsuit.

"However, SonRise Farms has always maintained a safe working environment at its farms and has complied with state and federal wage and hour laws," the company said in a statement.

According to the suit, Ignacio Villalobos and Adalberto Gomez each worked on SonRise-owned farms in Los Angeles and Riverside counties. The men, who are represented by CRLA, alleged there was insufficient lighting during the nighttime harvest and a lack of adequate bathroom facilities and that the farm and labor contractors were aware that workers were living in trailers, tents and cars.

The suit also alleges that workers in Los Angeles county bathed in an irrigation reservoir that was visible from a public road.

California is one of the country's top onion-producing areas, trailing only Washington and Idaho-Eastern Oregon, according to the National Onion Association.

 

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