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Farm Bureau sues Labor over blueberries

PORTLAND (AP) — The Oregon Farm Bureau has sued the federal government to obtain records showing how it used its power to block shipments of perishable farm goods during disputes over wage claims.

The lawsuit involves what is known as the “hot goods” provision, which the U.S. Labor Department exercised last summer in inspections of Oregon blueberry farms.

The department said it found serious record-keeping and minimum-wage violations at three of seven farms.

The bureau said the department offered to lift the “hot goods” order if the growers signed consent judgments acknowledging wrongdoing and paid fines and back wages. One farmer, Gregg Ditchen of Silverton, described the action as “extortion,” The Oregonian reported Friday.

Eventually, the three farms paid the Labor Department $240,000 to settle the claims and be allowed to ship their crops, the agricultural publication Capital Press reported.

Oregon leaders called the practice unfair and unprecedented. State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian urged the federal government not to impose the provision on perishable products.

The Farm Bureau said it has been working with the state’s congressional delegation on the issue. On April 23, the bureau filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records about the Labor Department’s use of the powers.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday said the department failed to comply within the 20 working-day response period. Department spokesman Jesse Lawder told The Oregonian it had no comment on the suit. A spokeswoman, Sonia Melendez, said the department was considering a request by The Associated Press for comment on the suit and the “hot goods” provision.


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