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August 8, 2003

L&I fines Olympia man for illegally employing brush pickers

TUMWATER – The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) issued a citation today to an Olympia man for illegally employing brush pickers in Mason County. The $1,250 fine is part of the agency’s broader effort in the specialty forest products industry to protect workers from exploitation.

The harvest and sale of non-timber products such as salal, beargrass, mushrooms and tree boughs is a multimillion-dollar, international industry for Washington state. Farm labor contractors – also known as labor brokers – obtain harvest permits for specialty forest products, and are required to register with L&I. Registration ensures that the employer carries vehicle insurance and a surety bond so that workers will have some protection if there’s an on-the-job vehicle accident or if their wages are not paid.

In addition, labor brokers – like all employers – are required to provide safe working conditions and insurance in case of job-related injuries.

Earlier this year, L&I began an investigative emphasis in Thurston and Mason counties to identify illegal farm labor contractors and educate workers about their rights. As part of the emphasis, L&I also has launched a series of Spanish radio and print advertisements, on worker rights and how to report illegal farm labor contractors, to reach Latinos who make up a majority of the brushpicking work force.

“One of our agency’s key responsibilities is to protect vulnerable workers who are at risk of exploitation,” said L&I Deputy Director Judy Schurke. “All workers, regardless of their legal status or job, are entitled to fair wages, safe working conditions and compensation for on-the-job injuries.”

Several weeks ago, L&I investigators identified Frumencio Cruz Pedro as a potential illegal labor broker. Through a cooperative effort with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, the agency was able to finalize its investigation and serve a citation after Pedro was arrested and booked into the Mason County Jail for investigation of felony theft of specialized forest products and trespassing on a private forestry company’s property.

Pedro was served an L&I “Notice of Violation” for operating a business without valid farm labor contractor registration, and involving his workers in felony theft. He has 30 days to pay or appeal the citation.

Since April, L&I has been working with landowners, business operators, associations, local and state agencies and workers of the specialty forest products industry to ensure that workers are provided a safe workplace, appropriate wages and medical coverage if injured. The emphasis is expected to continue through the fall harvesting season. More information about farm labor contractor registration is available at www.LNI.wa.gov/scs/workstandards/farmlabr.htm.


For media information, call Lisa Pemberton at 360-902-5405 or email: PEML235@LNI.WA.GOV.

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