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Half Moon Bay workers to share $450K after mass shooting exposes poor working conditions

Law enforcement officers walk toward the scene of a mass shooting at Mountain Mushroom Farm in Half Moon Bay, California on January 24, 2023. Seven people were killed in the shootings that exposed poor and unsafe working conditions for migrant employees. On Monday, the Labor Department announced 62 workers would share $450,000 in back pay and damages. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
Law enforcement officers walk toward the scene of a mass shooting at Mountain Mushroom Farm in Half Moon Bay, California on January 24, 2023. Seven people were killed in the shootings that exposed poor and unsafe working conditions for migrant employees. On Monday, the Labor Department announced 62 workers would share $450,000 in back pay and damages. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

May 20 (UPI) -- Dozens of employees at two Half Moon Bay mushroom farms, where a disgruntled co-worker killed seven migrant workers last year, will share more than $450,000 in back wages and damages, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Monday after finding 62 workers were underpaid and housed in unsafe conditions.

California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms Inc. were cited for multiple violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act after the mass shooting exposed the mushroom farm workers' poor living conditions.

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"Our investigators found workers at California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms housed in sickening conditions, forced to sleep near garbage with insects all around," said Wage and Hour Division Assistant District Director Alberto Raymond in San Francisco.

Investigators discovered 39 workers housed in small cargo containers, garages and old trailers at California Terra Gardens, according to the Labor Department. Investigators said the workers were forced to sleep on filthy mattresses as the farm's owners illegally deducted money from their pay for the substandard accommodations.

At Concord Farms, which is 2 miles away, the owners housed workers in "moldy, makeshift rooms in a greenhouse infested with insects," according to investigators who said workers were shortchanged in that they did not receive overtime pay beyond 40 hours a week and were not paid for work off-the-clock.

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In January 2023, seven migrant workers were killed and another injured when a co-worker at Terra Gardens opened fire at both farms, in addition to Mountain Mushroom Farm.

Chunli Zhao, 67, who had also previously worked at Concord Farms, was indicted in January. The case, which has yet to go to trial, exposed the migrant workers' conditions.

Concord Farms has agreed to pay a total of $370,107 in overtime wages and liquidated damages to 10 workers, $4,242 in late wages to 23 workers and $29,049 in civil money penalties to settle violations, according to the Labor Department.

California Terra Gardens has agreed to pay $84,074 to 39 workers to compensate for the owners' illegal housing deductions and $42,494 in civil money penalties to resolve record-keeping violations.

"The Department of Labor is determined to hold employers accountable when they ignore their legal responsibilities to provide suitable housing when required and pay workers all their legally earned wages for the hard work they do in difficult conditions," Raymond said. "We are committed to enforcing these workplace protections that ensure safe and suitable living conditions for seasonal workers."

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