Sun Valley workers awarded settlement

By Sean Garmire

Officials with Sun Valley Floral Farms have agreed to pay as much as $1.4 million to compensate hundreds of employees for overtime wages, after a class action lawsuit was brought against the flower distribution company in late 2007.

Sun Valley Floral Farms agreed to the settlement in late September. Now, between 800 and 1,000 tulip bunchers, employed between 2003 and 2008, are being offered roughly 73 percent of each overtime dollar they would have earned.

”I'm pleased with their (Sun Valley Floral Farms') cooperation, and I think they've done the right thing,” the plaintiff's attorney Patrik Griego said Tuesday. “If everything goes fine, then some time around Christmas would be when (the settlement administrator) could start issuing checks.”

According to court documents, the suit was brought in November 2007 by three former employees who worked in the company's factory-style tulip bunching lines.

Those workers alleged Sun Valley Floral Farms failed to pay them, and other workers in their department, for overtime between November 2003 and August 2008.

The nationally recognized flower distributor denied any wrongful conduct Tuesday, and stated the problem resulted from ambiguities in California law regarding the definition of agricultural work.

Sun Valley Floral Farms claimed the confusion was caused by unclear guidance set by the Industrial Welfare Commission and the Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement.
”The Advertisement settlement of the lawsuit doesn't affect Sun Valley's commitment to providing competitive compensation and benefits for its team members,” the company said in a prepared statement.

Although the suit was brought by three employees, anyone who was employed as a tulip buncher during the five-year period may qualify to receive the settlement. Those workers have until a Nov. 10 deadline to contact the settlement administrator in order to receive compensation.

According to Sun Valley Floral Farms officials, the company classified its tulip bunchers as flower harvesters -- a designation that allowed the flower distributor to pay overtime only when tulip bunchers exceeded a 10-hour work day.

The tulip bunchers, who prepare the already-picked tulips for sale, balked at the harvesting classification, alleging they were misclassified and should be paid overtime for any time exceeding eight hours.

The recently embattled floral company's Arcata headquarters was raided in early September by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who arrested a total of 23 workers -- all Mexican citizens suspected of illegally immigrating to the United States.

Griego could not say whether any of the plaintiffs in the case were illegal immigrants, but he said that would not preclude them from being awarded in the settlement.

”It doesn't matter if they're documented or undocumented; if they worked overtime, they have a right to be paid for it,” he said.

reprinted from the Times-Standard Online