A prominent Santa Maria Valley farming family is facing a class-action lawsuit filed by former employees for allegedly violating several labor laws.
The complaint alleges that the agricultural businesses Agro-Jal Farming Enterprises Inc., Agro-Jal Farms Inc., Paloma Packing Inc., and the companies’ owners Abel Maldonado Sr., Abel Maldonado Jr., and Frank Maldonado, violated several California labor laws regulating wages, working hours, and working conditions. The lawsuit was filed by Cipriano Ponce, employed by the defendants from 1984 to 2014, and Carlos Faria, employed by the defendants from 2008 to 2010.
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- PICKING CONTENTION: Abel Maldonado Jr. (pictured), his brother Frank, their father Abel Maldonado Sr., and their agricultural businesses have been accused by former farmworkers of violating several labor laws.
“Plaintiffs allege that they have suffered injury and pecuniary [monetary] loss as a result of Defendants’ failure to comply with labor law,” according to the complaint filed July 15 in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. Ponce and Faria worked for the defendants in both SLO and Santa Barbara counties. The Maldonados’ operations are based in Santa Maria.
The complaint alleges that employees were required to report to the company offices and then go to work, but were only paid for the time they actually worked, rather than all hours they were on the clock.
All in all, “plaintiffs worked approximately 13 hours per day, six days a week and six hours on the seventh day.”
The complaint also alleges that workers weren’t given appropriate break and meal periods, were denied overtime and double time, and weren’t reimbursed for work-related expenses such as mileage, gas, tools, and equipment.
A class-action lawsuit is appropriate, the complaint argues, “because defendants have implemented a scheme that is generally applicable to the plaintiff class.”
Allen Hutkin, the San Luis Obispo-based labor law attorney representing Ponce and Faria told New Times that they believe these practices harmed hundreds of employees, primarily field workers.
The California Labor Workforce Development Agency will review the complaint, and if it declines to pursue the matter, Hutkin and his clients will continue the matter in court.
Frank Maldonado, president of Agro-Jal, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Maldonados are a well-known agricultural family in the Santa Maria Valley, in part because of the political career of Abel Jr. He began as a Santa Maria City Council member before becoming the city’s mayor, and was then elected to the California Assembly and the state Senate. In 2009, he was appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to fill a vacant Lt. Governor seat. Abel Jr. subsequently lost the seat in a failed 2010 re-election bid to Gavin Newsom. Maldonado also unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) in 2012.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay