Farm owners in California mass shooting to pay workers $450,000 | California

The owners of two mushroom farms in northern California where a disgruntled employee shot and killed seven people last year will pay a total of more than $450,000 in back wages and damages to 62 employees.

In an announcement released on Monday following an extensive investigation, the US labor department said the payment is an element of administrative settlements reached by the department’s wage and hour division with California Terra Garden and Concord Farms.

The government’s announcement comes after the incident in which the accused gunman, 67-year old Chunli Zhao, opened fire on two farms in Half Moon Bay, a small community approximately 30 miles south of San Francisco, on 23 January 2023, killing seven workers and injuring another.

Speaking to investigators, Zhao said that prior to the shooting, he had had an argument with a supervisor who insisted he pay $100 in repairs following a forklift incident that Zhao said was not his fault. According to Zhao, a co-worker intentionally hit the forklift with a bulldozer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Zhao, a Chinese citizen, has pleaded not guilty to multiple murder charges.

Zhao worked at Concord Farms previously and was later an employee at California Terra Garden.

The deadly shooting and the labor department’s investigation revealed the hazardous working conditions that many migrant farmworkers have been subjected to in San Mateo county.

“Our investigators found workers at California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms housed in sickening conditions, forced to sleep near garbage and with insects all around,” Alberto Raymond, the labor department’s wage and hour division assistant district director, said in a statement.

At California Terra Garden, investigators found that 39 workers were housed in cramped cargo containers, garages and dilapidated trailers, were forced to sleep on filthy mattresses and were exposed to insects and trash. According to the labor department, the farm’s owners, Xianmin Guan and his wife, Liming Zhu, illegally deducted money from workers’ pay for the substandard housing.

At Concord Farms, investigators found that its owner, Grace Tung, housed workers in moldy, makeshift rooms in a greenhouse infested with bugs. Tung also violated federal regulations by shortchanging workers who were not paid appropriate overtime, the labor department said.

As part of the settlements, California Terra Garden has agreed to pay totals of $84,074 directly to 39 workers to recoup the employers’ illegal housing deductions, and $42,494 in civil money penalties to resolve its housing, wage-disclosure and record-keeping violations.

Meanwhile, Concord Farms has agreed to pay a total of $370,107 in overtime wages and liquidated damages to 10 workers, as well as a total of $4,242 in late wages to 23 workers. It has also agreed to pay $29,049 in civil money penalties to address its various violations.

The civil penalties are in addition to the more than $450,000 in back wages and damages to be paid to the 62 employees from both farms.

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