A Whatcom County berry grower and a Ferndale labor contractor have agreed to pay fines in connection with alleged violations of federal laws on employment of children and minimum wages.
In a lawsuit filed July 30, 2012, in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the U.S. Department of Labor contends that PTM Berry Farms, its operator Marvin Van Mersbergen, and Vicente Labor Contractor of Ferndale failed to pay the required minimum wage to 188 workers during the 2011 and 2012 harvest.
They also used four children aged 8 to 11 as blueberry pickers, the federal investigation found.
U.S. Department of Labor spokeswoman Deanne Amaden said federal labor law does not allow children that age to work, except on small family farms that fall below the size threshold that puts them under the authority of federal wage laws.
"This is a farm that was not a small family farm, and 8-year-old kids should not have been out harvesting blueberries," Amaden said.
Van Mersbergen and Alvaro and Juan Vicente of the labor firm have already signed consent judgments in connection with the charges. In the consent judgment, Van Mersbergen and the Vicentes "agree to the entry of this judgment without contest," the document says.
They have agreed to pay $32,000 each in penalties stemming from the child labor violations, and have also agreed to pay a total of $12,100 in back wages and damages to the workers who were underpaid.
They also agreed to refrain from further labor law violations, and to give their worker supervisors a training session in federal labor law, under the supervision of the Department of Labor.
They also must submit labor law compliance audits during the 2013 and 2014 berry picking seasons, to be conducted by a third-party monitor hired at their expense.
Lesa Starkenburg-Kroontje, Van Mersbergen's attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.