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Farmworkers' lawsuit challenges "voluntary" company transport

Many agricultural workers in California are strongly encouraged to travel to and from their jobs in company-provided buses. While the use of the buses is nominally voluntary, a number of farm workers have filed lawsuits seeking travel pay for their time on the vehicles. According to the workers' lawyers from California Rural Legal Assistance, employees are actually required to use these company buses to reach the fields. Under a 2000 ruling of the state Supreme Court, farm workers must be paid for their travel time to the worksite on mandatory company buses.

After the ruling in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., many farmers and labor contractors began to declare that the company-provided transportation was actually voluntary. Language in the ruling noted that employers were allowed to offer transportation for workers as long as its use was voluntary. Language stating that the buses' use is not mandatory is often posted inside the vehicles or printed in an employee handbook. Nevertheless, the workers' lawyers say that agricultural workers, a marginalized, low-wage population, are forced to take these buses and that the real cost of refusing the transportation could be the workers' jobs.

In addition, they note that these company-provided vehicles are often dirty, noisy and unsafe. However, farm owners and contracting companies claim that the vehicles are optional. They also said that they would be unable to pay such travel costs and that the costs of wages for farm workers are skyrocketing.

Farmworkers and other low-wage workers may be at some of the greatest risk for wage theft in California businesses. People who are not being paid for the hours that they work or who are being denied overtime might work with an employment lawyer to fight for their rights. An attorney may help workers file complaints and take action about wage and hour violations.

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